Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) says when the Legislature restructured the Department of Transportation in 2007, they did not go far enough. Grooms chairs the Senate Transportation Committee and wants to eliminate the agency’s seven-member commission. Read bill S. 1162.
The problem is the tug-of-war that reportedly happens between the DOT director and the six commissioners who are supposed to oversee the agency’s work. There is one commissioner for each congressional district and an at-large appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley. The Secretary of Transportation, also appointed by the governor, is responsible for the administrative functions of the agency.
Last year when contractors complained of late payments and lawmakers called for answers, DOT Director Robert St. Onge told a legislative committee that part of the problem is commissioners micro-managing the agency.
Gov. Haley agrees and so does Grooms. Grooms says another major problems is that it pits the good of a region versus the good of the entire state.
There is a State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) already in place that oversees the planning of new roads. In this process, a road or repair request starts at the local level and works its way through regional planning groups and onto a state priority list for consideration. Grooms says some commissioners pet projects get done anyway despite a low ranking on the list.
“I believe that we should have a statewide, strategic view and build roads based on statewide needs,” says Grooms.
The department has had some cash flow and accounting issues made public in the past few months, but Grooms says those have been “pretty much resolved.” Now the issue is management and planning, he says.
Infrastructure improvements are high on some legislators’ budget wish lists, yet, Grooms says agency leadership must be changed first.
“There’s a number of members of the General Assembly who have sworn that DOT is not going to see a dime in additional funding until they get their management, their oversight straight,” Grooms says.
Grooms says he expects “rigorous debate” on the bill Wednesday, as some legislators see no need to change the current structure. He says regions want to protect their highway interests: “Being able to direct $1.2 billion annually in road appropriations does have appeal to some people.”