Christy Hall, in the midst of her second interim stint as the state’s transportation secretary, was given the job permanently Wednesday by Gov. Nikki Haley.
Hall, 44, took over the 5,000-employee agency in July — a month after Janet Oakley, a former lobbyist for the trade group of state transportation departments, announced her resignation with a little more than a year on a job.
Hall, a two-decade veteran of the agency who was last the deputy director for engineering, has been a central figure during updates after the historic rainstorm this month damaged and washed away hundreds of bridges and roads from Columbia to Charleston.
She coordinated debris cleanup and repairs, including underwater work needed to reopen a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 95 after a number of bridges were damaged in Clarendon County. Some repairs, however, could take months to complete.
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Haley said she typically likes to hire people outside state government to run agencies to get a different perspective, but the governor said she and Hall think alike about productivity while keeping quality.
Haley also praised Hall for working to keep up pre-storm road maintenance schedules, while working on storm recovery.
Paying for road repairs was a hot topic in the S.C. Legislature months before the storm, but lawmakers and Haley could not reach an agreement before adjourning in July.
Before the storm damage, the agency had estimated it needs an added $1.5 billion a year through 2040 to expand, maintain and preserve the state’s highways, bridges and transit system. Others, however, have put the amount needed to repair the state’s road system at $400 million a year.
Asked how the storm damage could affect road budget talks, Hall said she was not prepared to discuss that since the transportation agency is still in recovery mode after the flood.
The transportation department is funded mostly from the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax and federal 18.4-cent-a-gallon gas tax. Some lawmakers would like the raise state gas tax to pay for road repairs.
Hall earns $139,167. Her appointment by Haley must be approved by the Senate.
Lawmakers said Oakley was overwhelmed with the bureaucracy at the $1.6-billion agency. Oakley took over the department after Robert St. Onge resigned over a drunken-driving charge.
Hall was the acting secretary for three months before Oakley was appointed in 2014. During that time, she dealt with another large weather event — a snow and ice storm that blanketed much of the Midlands and Upstate.
“I’m grateful there are no volcanoes in South Carolina,” Hall said Wednesday.
Background of the new S.C. Department of Transportation secretary
Resides: Saluda County
Education: Clemson University, bachelor’s degree in civil engineering
Experience: Worked at the S.C. Department of Transportation for two decades. Has worked as the deputy secretary for engineering, deputy secretary for finance and procurement, program manager and district construction engineer and administrator.