COLUMBIA -- A state highway commissioner known for being at odds with her colleagues is accusing the state Department of Transportation of a cover-up.
Commissioner Sarah Nuckles of Rock Hill said she believes the agency's management has systematically refused or been unable to provide the commission with adequate and accurate information, The Greenville News reported Tuesday.
"I believe there is a complex 'culture of cover-up' that has existed for years at top levels of the SCDOT, including the current administration," she wrote in a letter to reporters.
Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge said he's not sure what she's talking about.
"That's a pretty bold statement," said St. Onge, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley earlier this year. "I don't know of any cover-up that is being done."
Nuckles reiterated in her letter her criticism that the agency is not following a 2007 reform law requiring the board to prioritize projects.
"I have asked probably hundreds of questions in the past 3 1/2 years," she said. "The impression I get is that I don't always get a complete answer or a correct answer or enough information to make informed decisions."
The agency also has been criticized by state Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, following the agency's money woes.
The agency fell behind in paying contractors this summer. A $52 million advance in federal reimbursements, normally paid over a year's time, allowed the agency to catch up in August. St. Onge has said the agency will receive the same advance next summer, to carry it through another expected dip in cash.
St. Onge has said the problem primarily stemmed from the agency taking on too many construction projects at once and not adequately planning for the bills coming due, as well as state gas tax collections remaining flat.
Nuckles has sat on the seven-member board that oversees the agency since March 2008, when legislators elected her to represent the 5th congressional district. She often votes against fellow board members.
Nuckles was the lone commissioner to initially oppose issuing a $344 million bond for five road projects, including the long-proposed Interstate 73, a highway she opposes as unnecessary and environmentally destructive. The road would provide interstate access to Myrtle Beach.
After the agency's money problems became public, a series of re-votes ended with the board voting last month to delay the approval process for the bond package. She abstained in the final vote, saying it was about the timing of the process, rather than the rejection she wanted.