An effective transportation network is vital to our region and to you personally, yet it can be challenging to understand.
On February 5, leaders gathered at The Workshop to learn more about the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and the people behind their impactful work. Erica Wright, Senior Director of Regional Government Relations, joined panelists Robby Robbins, Chairman of the SCDOT Commission, and Joy Riley, Project Manager for SCDOT, to demystify this state-wide organization.
SCDOT is in place to make the roads in our state safe to travel.
Robby Robbins serves as the SCDOT Commissioner. According to Robby Robbins, who serves as the SCDOT Commissioner, his role has changed over the years. Currently, they are appointed by the Governor to serve in a Board of Directors type of role, overseeing the operations of the agency and reporting to the Secretary of Transportation, Christy Hall.
Joy Riley is more involved in the day-to-day operations of SCDOT, serving as a Project Manager. There are three main units within SCDOT – Finance, Intermodal Planning and Engineering. Joy is a part of the Engineering division and works to identify solutions to our state’s problems, focusing on operations, maintenance and construction plans.
“I love public service and making a difference” -Joy Riley, Project Manager, SCDOT
What are some common misconceptions about SCDOT?
Commissioners can pick which projects get done
According to Robby Robbins, this is not true. The projects are chosen based on sound data and sound engineering resources to deliver projects.
SCDOT is not working hard enough
“A common misconception about us is that we are not working hard enough. We do a lot with a small amount of money and we constantly work towards having the safest roads for our South Carolina residents.” – Joy Riley, Project Manager, SCDOT
How are infrastructure projects identified and funded?
According to Joy, the Intermodal planning division investigates how our state system is operating and performing and prioritizes the state’s needs, making sure that decisions that are made are best for the state.
It is then handed over to the Engineering department to figure out how that project would get done.
SCDOT puts tremendous effort into making sure our roads are safe.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been an increase in state funding in 30 years…which means that most new roads and improvements are still funded primarily by the Federal government. This has been scaled back recently due to additional state funds and money from the South Carolina gas tax, aimed at providing more funding for roads and bridges. Both Joy and Robby agree that local sales tax programs are incredible and help to move critical projects forward.
An attendee asked – “If you have a local project being funded with local gas tax money, does the SCDOT have to be involved?” The answer is yes, if it’s a state road.
You may wonder why it takes so long once a project has been identified…
One answer that you may have suspected is money. Getting the money is a difficult task in and of itself. Once the money is there, it’s also important to make sure they’re making the right investment.
Another large reason that these projects take longer than you’d think is because of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Review Process.
NEPA sets guidelines for how every government agency makes decisions, mandating that the impact on the environment and public health be considered, while also setting up the procedures for the public to officially register concerns about a project. The environmental process is significant for our area and can add extended time to any improvements or advancements.
Robby and Joy both commented that President Trump’s proposed changes to the landmark environmental law would speed up the process. Joy serves as project manager on the extension of I-526 for the existing corridor and sees value in these changes, noting that the environmental impact statement normally would take five to seven years, but with the proposed changes, would only take two years.
How does SCDOT work with local government to improve regional infrastructure?
Collaboration with local government and SCDOT has been critical to ensuring that everyone is on board and sees value in the new project or improvement.
“The relationships we have with local governments are huge. Collaboration helps identify the need in our area for road improvements so that we work together to get the job done.” – Robby Robbins, Chairman of the South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission
For Joy, learning from the elected officials and community members in our region is critical to understanding our needs. This will ensure they are prepared to make the best decisions for our region, from Columbia. With the Charleston region seeing such high growth, it also helps SCDOT better predict the future and forecast what is needed to keep our community happy and thriving.
How Can You Get Involved?
Attend the CHATS public meetings
The Charleston Area Transportation Study (CHATS) Policy Committee, led by Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG), is the tri-county metropolitan planning organization that identifies local transportation needs. SCDOT relies on CHATS to feed them information and is an important organization to be a part of.
The CHATS Committee is an advocate for Lowcountry Rapid Transit which is an infrastructure priority for the Charleston Metro Chamber and the first of its kind in our state. Don’t worry, as a member of the Charleston Metro Chamber, your voice is already being heard. The Chamber’s Government Relations team attends these meetings and advocates for much-needed infrastructure projects for your commute and our region
The Chamber’s Government Relations team is committed to demystifying processes so that you are aware of what the Chamber is working on and how you can be involved.
What would you like to see demystified? Let us know!