Confusion about two federally funded Coast RTA projects has exposed the transit authority to more than half a million dollars in liabilities, according to Coast CEO Myers Rollins.
Rollins called the confusion a “fundamental misunderstanding,” which concerned some board members because neither of the projects were included in the authority’s budget.
The S.C. Department of Transportation, however, said Wednesday there was no misunderstanding and that it was clear since August that one of the projects may be cancelled because of “significant inactivity” for years.
Both projects deal with Federal Highway Administration grants.
Rollins told his board at its meeting Wednesday that the projects – one to bring signs and shelters to Horry County bus stops and another to explore the feasibility of an intermodal transit hub – were believed to have been 100 percent funded by federal funds.
But failure of the Coast RTA to follow proper protocol – namely not bidding the signs and bus stop projects, and not having local matching money ready for the intermodal project – prompted the highway administration to pull the plug on both projects and begin looking for reimbursement.
“My concern, and I think the concern of other people, is here we are into the feasibility study, and we’re on the hook for $44,000,” said Bernard Silverman, chairman of the Coast RTA board. “We have some shelters, not many … and we’re on the hook for up to $400,000, hopefully a lot less, and we have someone coming to repo our shelters.
“I’m concerned and I don’t know what to say. … Instead of getting ahead … if we have to pay even $300,000 for the difference in what we paid for shelters, that’s a bust. That’s a big bust.
“I think I’m getting the sense of the board, and my own sense too, it’s frustrating, and I sense you’re frustrated too,” Silverman said to Rollins.
In 2007, Coast RTA was awarded a $1 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to install 58 bus shelters on routes throughout Horry and Georgetown counties, as well as route signs.
The grant, which was administered by the S.C. DOT, was to cover the entire cost of the project, Rollins said.
Hurdles Coast RTA had to deal with included working with municipalities to install the shelters. The delay prompted Coast RTA to request an extension in 2009, which is when the whole project was scheduled to be done. The extension was granted to mid-2013.
More than 500 projects nationwide were being funded by the highway administration similar to the shelters and signs program, and it took until the last few years for the Feds to figure out Coast was not abiding
Rollins said that in 2011, S.C. DOT passed a requirement that all projects, including the shelter and signs project, required a local match, which is something Coast learned about in 2013.
In April 2013, the highway administration instructed Coast RTA to stop the project. In the summer, S.C. DOT said it was pulling the funding for the program and Coast could be liable for reimbursing part of the project.
Julie Norton-Dew, chief financial officer for Coast, said she does not see why it will have to reimburse any money because S.C. DOT signed off on all of the shelters and equipment already purchased.
“From the perspective of Coast RTA … we were in compliance with what the contract required,” Norton-Dew said. “However, because they were using federal highway funds, the contract that was laid out to us from S.C. DOT did not follow federal highway guidelines.”
Doug Frate, deputy secretary for Intermodal Planning at S.C. DOT, said a final figure has not been reached and will not until the state inspects the inventory Coast purchased already and sees what it can sell or use in another area of the state. He said federal and state contracts have clauses where the government reserves the right to re-examine contracts where obligations are not met. He said the state and federal government had to inspect this contract.
“Because of the inactivity in the project itself, that was something we had to take a very clear and concise look at,” Frate said.
“We had, initially in August 2013, expressed to Coast RTA the need for a detailed plan and milestones to complete the project,” Frate said, adding he and Coast officials met in November to discuss the plan.
Rollins said the administrative team worked many hours on the detailed plan and milestones, but Frate said it simply was not enough.
“Our response collectively was that the documents that we provided were insufficient, inadequate and incomplete,” Frate said in a phone interview after Wednesday’s meeting.
Board member Gary Loftus, who also is a member of the County Council that gives more than $1 million annually to the transit, questioned the use of fundamental misunderstanding with both projects.
“So we have a pattern of ‘fundamental misunderstandings’?” Lofton asked Rollins.
“No,” Rollins said. “It’s the same issue. It’s not our role to notify [the Federal Highway Administration].”
In 2010, Coast RTA began exploring an Intermodal Transportation Center and eventually initiated a feasibility study with Canadian-based Stantec Consulting. The center would serve as a hub for such modes of transportation as Coast RTA, biking and Greyhound.
In June 2013, as the study was well underway, Coast RTA was ordered by the Federal Highway Administration to stop the study because it did not meet certain federal requirements, including having the local match funds on hand. Stantec had billed Coast RTA $73,386.14 for work it had already done before the project was stopped.
Coast RTA is liable for a little more than $44,000 of that and S.C. DOT will pick up the remainder. Rollins said the intermodal project has been put on the backburner until after July for Coast RTA to prepare the re-bidding project.
Chairman Silverman said he was concerned that Coast may have to fork over $500,000. It operates on a more than $5 million budget.
“In the end, there are few shelters, no signage and no feasibility study,” Silverman said.