ORANGEBURG -- Despite failing in its most recent bid to bring in program money for its troubled transportation center, South Carolina State University is forging ahead with construction on the first phase of a research complex.

The university failed to land a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would have allowed it to launch research programs and regain its designation as a federal University Transportation Center.

Dale Wesson, vice president for research, told a committee of the school's Board of Trustees on Thursday that the money would have been "a real shot in the arm" for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center. But Wesson said the university is applying for other research grants. He thinks those awards will be easier to land now that a portion of its transportation complex is complete.

S.C. State's center became one of dozens of USDOT University Transportation Centers in 1998, but the agency cut off funding in 2006, and has not recognized it as a designated transportation center since 2009.

Wesson said he doesn't yet know why the agency shot down the university's grant application. The school hasn't yet received written comments on its application.

He plans soon to apply for program and research grants from the state Department of Transportation and other federal agencies. And now, he thinks that with one building of the planned transportation complex complete, it will be easier to bring in research money. The new building is "our launching pad," he said.

The state's Legislative Audit Council, the General Assembly's watchdog group, in a June report found the transportation center was sinking under the weight of severe management problems.

That report estimated that the transportation complex likely would cost about $107 million. The university had only brought in about $28 million for the project, and had no viable plan for raising the rest.

School finance officials said Thursday that they may revise construction cost estimates because building costs have declined since the estimates were made.

University officials have said that the first phase of the complex would consist of two buildings.

S.C. State finished the first $4.8 million building in December. That building includes a chiller plant, three automotive research bays and a fourth bay for cleaning and preparing vehicles. About $2 million of the money went toward the chiller plant, which will cool the entire complex, excluding the one building that's complete.

The first building it will cool is an archives building, which is the second building in the project's first phase. Construction will begin on that building in the spring. School leaders said it would be complete in 2014.