South Carolina’s transportation system is not accountable to any one elected official, and that’s by design. Even so, after several years of pressure from citizens and some piecemeal changes to the law, there are ways for South Carolinians to engage with transportation policymakers.
1. Citizens can call the governor’s office. The governor isn’t directly responsible for road funding decisions, but thanks to the 2017 law that raised the gas tax, he does have the power to appoint those who do make policy decisions, namely the Department of Transportation’s commissioners. The governor can also fire commissioners at will.
2. Citizens can contact DOT commissioners directly. There are seven regional commissioners and one at large commissioner (the new law creates two at large members, but the second hasn’t been appointed yet). Note: Although the governor now has the authority to appoint and fire commissioners, the current members of the commission were appointed by legislative delegations and approved by a now-eliminated board of lawmakers – so lawmakers should be questioned about commissioners, too.
3. Citizens can attend or watch livestreamed DOT commission meetings. Much of these meetings may sound indecipherable, but viewers should watch for any attempt to divert funds from the newly created Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund (supposedly only to be used for maintenance and repair) to debt service or some other function.
4. DOT scores contractors, and those scores are public information, thanks to last year’s efforts by The Nerve, a website of the S.C. Policy Council. Citizens can search past scores, ask whether contractors that scored poorly have been rehired, and if so query commissioners on the reasons.
5. DOT recently created a “portal” for citizens to research ongoing projects. The portal’s map suggests that many roads and bridges throughout the state are currently undergoing repair and maintenance, whereas in many case it’s unclear whether that’s true. Citizens may wish to consult the portal and query their commissioners on specific situations.
6. Citizens can scrutinize DOT’s nine priority lists. The lists don’t convey much in the way of priorities, but they do offer quantifiable data to those wishing to press policymaking officials, from legislative leaders to DOT commissioners, for answers.
In 2017, state lawmakers substantially increased taxes and fees, allegedly for road repair. There’s nothing you can do about the tax and fee hikes, but you can watch the system to discern whether your money goes where lawmakers said it would go.