By Paul Gable
Despite the best efforts of the S.C. Department of Transportation to derail it, the Coast RTA shelter/sign project is back on track moving to completion.
The project was originally funded by a $1 million Federal Highway Administration grant to the Waccamaw Council of Governments. The COG awarded the money to Coast RTA to construct signs and shelters at bus stops while requesting SCDOT to handle administration of the project.
SCDOT unfamiliarity with FHWA regulations, with respect to projects funded by FHWA grants, as well as alteration of Coast RTA routes due to financial considerations, caused progress on the project to slow down.
An August 30, 2013 letter from SCDOT to Coast RTA requested information about the project in order “to evaluate the project and determine future viability…”
A meeting between Coast RTA and SCDOT representatives was held in Columbia on November 4, 2013. A recording of these proceedings seem to place most of the blame for the slowness of the project and confusion about its requirements with SCDOT.
The focus of this meeting was what went wrong and how to get the project back on track. However, that quickly changed over the course of the next five weeks with SCDOT cancelling the project on December 17, 2013 while hinting that Coast RTA may have to pay back nearly $500,000 of expended project funds.
In retrospect, it is probably at this point that the project became a political issue aimed at providing possible excuses for a minority element in Horry County to build a case for cutting public funding of Coast RTA and possibly forcing the removal of Coast RTA General Manager Myers Rollins.
But, while a few people in the county with the help of some at SCDOT, were trying to paint Coast RTA as an incompetent organization, Rollins was moving forward to get the project back on track. In January 2014, Rollins contacted the COG with a proposal to save the program.
That proposal asked if the Waccamaw COG was willing to work with Coast RTA to complete the project. If research proved it was legal to do so, would the Waccamaw COG bid to purchase the 58 shelters that SCDOT intended to place on GovDeals.com for bid. If the bid was successful, would the Waccamaw COG take over administration of the project and coordinate with the FHWA to install the shelters at sites selected by Coast RTA.
After researching the request, Mark Hoeweler of the Waccamaw COG, informed Rollins in February 2014 the COG was willing to help.
That effort came to fruition last week. Despite the fact that SCDOT had no money in the project, it confiscated the remaining 58 shelters, which had been bought with the FHWA funds given to the Waccamaw COG, and put them up for bid last week.
The Waccamaw COG placed a winning bid of $7,510 for 58 shelters offered by SCDOT on the GovDeals.com website. With tax and fees a total of $8,719.11 was spent to reacquire the 58 shelters. It should be noted, the base price for these shelters when they were originally purchased from Tolar Manufacturing Company, Inc. of Corona, California was $3,075 each.
The project will now move forward, with the Waccamaw COG working with the FWHA to insure proper guidelines are followed, to install the 58 shelters at sites chosen by Coast RTA.
It was probably a mistake to get SCDOT involved with the project at all, even as a pass through for the funding, but that mistake has now been rectified.
It will be interesting to see if SCDOT continues an effort to have Coast RTA reimburse money already spent on the project. Even though SCDOT cancelled its participation in the project, the project is moving forward, the shelters are back where they belong and no SCDOT funds were ever involved.