By Paul Gable
The second meeting of the Special Committee on Coast RTA confirmed there is fault to be shared among several agencies when investigating why the bus sign and shelter project was not completed.
When Coast RTA received a $1 million grant through the Waccamaw Council of Governments, the Federal Highway Administration provided the funds. However, SCDOT administered the grant as if the funds came from the Federal Transportation Administration. FHWA and FTA have different requirements for how grant funds are administered.
Despite submitting 13 invoices for reimbursement from the FHWA, through the first few years of the project, SCDOT continued to administer by FTA regulations.
Coast RTA entered into a contract with SCDOT to locate 73 shelters and bus stop signs in 2006 despite having no source of long term funding and constantly changing routes.
Coast RTA relied then, and still does, on year to year grants from local governments for its local funding matches. These local grants had a roller coaster effect through the years (up one year, down the next) causing annual changes in routes and service by Coast RTA.
Without firm, fixed routes that would remain stable through the years, it is hard to see how Coast RTA expected to install permanent bus shelters and signs. Through the years, many locations were identified, then, later abandoned, due to these constantly changing routes.
Originally scheduled to be a three year project (2006-2009), 15 bus shelters and approximately 63 signs, were installed through 2010, which was the last year reimbursements were made on the project.
When SCDOT and FHWA became aware, in May 2013, that FHWA regulations were not being used on the project and with no progress of note to demonstrate over the preceding three year period, the decision was made to cancel the project in December 2013.
In March 2014, SCDOT notified Coast RTA that it would be responsible for reimbursing SCDOT $324,093.20 by June 30, 2015 unless alternate arrangements for repayment were approved.
The refund amount is for the purchase price of 58 unused shelters, which were sold for scrap to Waccamaw COG in March 2014. The COG is trying to develop plans, with local governments, to get the shelters installed.
According to a presentation at the meeting, SCDOT reimbursed the FHWA $462,124 for federal funds expended on the project. SCDOT credited Coast RTA $138,031 for work completed and is requesting repayment of $324,091 spent on the shelters.
If the COG is successful in developing plans to complete the project, the effect of the FHWA pulling out will mean the project was completed with somewhere above 80% local funding when future costs are factored in.
There were breakdowns in the project at both SCDOT and Coast RTA. Ultimately, however, it is local taxpayers who will be left footing the vast majority of the bill.