Many people believe that SCDOT solely controls the selection and development of all projects. This is far from the truth. SCDOT's main responsibility is to manage, not control, the planning process. The agency's top priority is the maintenance of existing roads and bridges. Most new construction projects are initiated by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's) and the Councils of Government (COG's).
The planning process for construction projects may be affected by:
The driving forces behind each construction project vary from traffic to safety to economic development.
Section 57-1-50 of state law pledges the good faith of the state to provide sufficient funds to meet the requirements of the federal program. The federal program is enacted by Congress and signed by the President, therefore SCDOT must defer to federal authority when projects are established pursuant to federal law.
SCDOT is required to consult with MPO's located in federally-designated urban Transportation Management Areas (TMA's) with a population exceeding 200,000 when programming certain projects in metropolitan areas. For other projects, the Commission establishes the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) based on criteria found in SC Code 57-1-370 with input from the General Assembly, the COG's, the MPO's and local governments.
Federal law requires each state to establish a fiscally constrained STIP. Projects located on federally-eligible highways must be placed in the STIP to protect their federal eligibility. The SCDOT Commission has established a policy of seeking recommendations from the COG's and MPO's for construction projects to be included in the STIP. This policy was made law in June 2007. Locally funded projects on federally eligible routes and South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank projects are also placed in the STIP after receiving formal endorsement by the Commission, although they are not subject to Section 57-1-370.
Aside from the federal requirements for establishing the STIP, state law now requires SCDOT to develop a statewide priority list of projects based on financial viability, safety, economic development, traffic congestion, freight traffic, pavement quality, environmental impacts, alternative solutions, and local land use plans. This priority list must be consulted when establishing the STIP.
Before any project in the STIP can move forward to construction, federal law requires that it must undergo extensive review by the environmental resource agencies, local governments, various cultural review agencies, and the general public. Hearings and public comment periods are required by law and often provide a positive influence on project development. SCDOT is proactive in its efforts to protect the environment while looking for fiscally conservative ways to complete all projects. Besides engineering concerns, the plans for each project must consider environmental mitigation, national security, safety, bicycle and pedestrian needs, and consistency with growth and development plans.