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South Carolina

Number of Councils of Governments: 10 Total annual funding: $106,500 (80% federal funds from FHWA SPR and FTA Planning, 20% local match) Date established rural transportation planning program: 1997In 1997, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) began to contact with the state’s existing network of regional councils of governments (COGs) to conduct rural planning activities to plan for rural road improvements.  The COGs serve as a liaison between local governments, SCDOT, and federal agencies to coordinate transportation planning and priorities.  Jennifer Tinsley, Planning, Community, Tourism, and Economic Development Administrator for Lower Savannah COG, explains the central liaison role the COGs play, “When local officials have concerns or questions about a transportation issue, they are likely to come to the COGs to find the information.  They know us, and they work with us on a regular basis on all kinds of issues.”[1]

The regional planning model benefits SCDOT as well.  “The structure we have certainly assists SCDOT with having an ongoing and cooperative rural planning process.  The COGs give us a direct link to the rural local elected officials,” says SCDOT Director of Planning Mark Pleasant.

To support SCDOT’s efforts to develop a statewide long-range plan and STIP, the COGs develop their own 20-year rural long-range plans and five-year regional TIP, which is fiscally constrained by year.  The regional TIP is approved by the SCDOT Commission and included in the STIP.  Each rural region is assigned a hypothetical allocation of federal Surface Transportation Block Grant and National Highway Performance Program funds to support their region’s transportation priorities.[2] The allocation is based on population, and the rural regions program between $2 million and $7 million per year.[3]

Map of South Carolina's COG boundaries

Click to enlarge (Map courtesy South Carolina DOT)

Like states and MPOs across the United States, South Carolina’s rural COGs are also increasingly evolving their planning processes toward performance-based planning.  A state law passed in 2007 known as Act 114 established specific criteria to be used in prioritizing projects that are submitted to the SCDOT Commission.  Those criteria include financial viability, public safety, potential for economic development, traffic volume and congestion, truck traffic, the pavement quality index, environmental impact, alternative transportation solutions, and consistency with local land use plans.[4] This prioritization framework shapes both the long-range plans and regional TIPs developed by the COGs.  Going forward, long-range plans will be performance-based, in addition to complying with Act 114, and will demonstrate progress toward established targets.[5]  As the South Carolina DOT and the state’s MPO partners prepare to implement new federal requirements for performance management, additional roles will likely be defined for the rural COGs too.[6]  This will enable COGs to assist with meeting state goals and track progress toward meeting their regions’ critical outcomes.[7]

The COGs also conduct public involvement and local consultation through the formation of a rural transportation committee, similar to the technical advisory committee found in MPOs and in other states.  The COGs’ board of directors, made up of local officials and their designees and other leaders, typically serve in the role of a policy committee, adopting the regional plans and priorities.  This arrangement allows for more local input in identifying and developing projects of high priority to the region.[8]  The COGs also conduct public participation activities, often with the help of local officials who recommend other important community leaders and citizens, time and place for public hearings or comment opportunities, and other tips that support the public involvement process.[9]  The state’s evaluation of the rural planning program showed that a large majority of the responding rural local officials found that SCDOT’s partnership with the COGs to be effective and satisfactory.[10]

The COGs have worked together with SCDOT to develop regional travel demand models to aid in the analysis of priority issues and projects.  The COGs are responsible for data collection activities that maintain the model, including adding to a GIS traffic count database, socio-economic data, coordination with neighboring MPOs and other agencies on data.[11]  The traffic models assist the COGs and SCDOT with analyzing roads in need of improvement, together with information gathered through site visits to proposed project locations when necessary to gather more detailed data.  This information, together with estimated costs and time to complete, is compiled into a list for consideration by the COG boards for adoption as the regional TIP. [12]

The Transportation Alternatives Program provides an important source of funds for local governments to access to meet mobility needs.  The COGs play a role through their work program by working with applicants to develop project applications and define project scope as needed, and soliciting applications and evaluating them as appropriate to assist in the process.[13]

To increase consistency and ensure effectiveness of the planning process, SCDOT conducts an audit of the COGs’ planning process every five years.  This allows for the identification of both best practices and areas of improvement.[14]

For more information on South Carolina’s COGs, visit the South Carolina Association of Regional Councils at sccogs.org.  For additional detail about SCDOT’s planning process, visit www.scdot.org/inside/planning_faq.aspx.

[1] Personal communication with Jennifer Tinsley, March 2016

[2] Personal communication with Rick Green, December 2015

[3] Personal communication with Mark Pleasant, July 2016

[4] SCDOT (nd). “Act 114—Project Priority Lists,” www.dot.state.sc.us/inside/act114.aspx

[5] SCDOT (2016). Contract between South Carolina Department of Transportation and Council of Governments

[6] Personal communication with Mark Pleasant, July 2016

[7] Appalachian COG (2015). Rural Planning Work Program, 2016 – 2017

[8] Appalachian COG (2015)

[9] Upper Savannah COG (2015).  Rural Planning Work Program

[10] SCDOT (2016). Summary of 2016 Survey Results: Evaluating the Effectiveness of SCDOT’S Consultation with Non-Metropolitan Officials in the Transportation Planning Process

[11] Appalachian COG (2015).

[12] Upper Savannah COG (2015)

[13] Appalachian COG (2015)

[14] SCDOT (2016). Contract between South Carolina Department of Transportation and Council of Governments