RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — The citizen committee that will oversee the expenditure of more than $1 billion in public money to modernize Richland County’s transportation system is in place.
Tuesday, it took Richland County Council nearly 11/2 hours and four ballots to choose seven representatives – out of 43 applicants – for the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee, or TPAC.
The seven will join volunteers appointed by the various cities, from Columbia to Irmo and Eastover, forming a 15-member advisory board that many refer to as “the watchdog committee.”
“I trust this group,” said Betty Gregory, who worked on the Nov. 6 sales-tax campaign and was in the audience, keeping tabs on the vote.
“It’s exactly what they were aiming to have” – a diverse group of people who live in all parts of the county and will come to the table with different skills and viewpoints.
The committee was established as a “watchdog” group, one that would help decide which projects should be started first and to keep tabs on the progress of multiple construction projects at once.
If County Council wants to revise the list it publicized as part of the sales-tax vote, the committee would have to weigh in.
It’s unclear when their work may begin. An anti-tax group is contesting the referendum, based on problems at the polls Election Day. The county is asking the S.C. Supreme Court to dismiss the protest.
Still, committee members say they’re ready to help guide decisions on improving roads, sidewalks, bike lanes and nature trails.
Among the new members are Elise Bidwell, a financial advisor, who said she didn’t even support the sales tax – and told council members so when asking for their support.
“We’re not going to be making a lot of decisions,” she said. “But I want to make sure the decisions that are made are properly communicated to the public.”
Hayes Mizell, on the other hand, worked for passage of the penny. His name might be familiar because he used to serve on the Richland 1 school board.
“This is a community issue, it’s a good-government issue and it’s important to demonstrate that government can work well for all people in the county,” Mizell said.
Natalie Britt, who runs the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, sees the transportation tax as an opportunity to improve quality of life in Columbia and Richland County – for people who cycle, walk and drive, too.
“We need to get it right,” she said.
Decisions about improvements to the bus system will be made by the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority.
“We have to ensure the integrity of the process,” said J.T. McLawhorn, the Urban League president who was a land-use planner early in his career.
The other members selected by Richland County are: Derrick Huggins, the University of South Carolina’s transportation director; Dorothy Sumter, a community leader in Hopkins; and Jennifer Bishop, director of a nonprofit community development corporation.
During its annual retreat, the council decided to call back together its joint transportation committee, a group of public officials and business leaders that helped decide which projects should be funded with the sales tax.
The council is asking that group to help set the criteria for prioritizing construction projects.
All six municipalities in Richland County made appointments to the TPAC, too, based on population. As previously reported, they are:
Todd Avant, a commercial real-estate executive; Trevor Bowers, a health-insurance salesman; and community activist Virginia Sanders.
Also Bobby Williams Jr., owner of the Lizard’s Thicket restaurants, Bill Wiseman, an executive with a Columbia construction-management firm; and James Faber, a former state legislator and general contractor.
Plus conservationist Carol Kososki and Irmo town administrator Bob Brown.