By Paul Gable
The battle to save South Carolina’s transportation infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, seems to be joined in the state government this year.
A bill to do away with the State Infrastructure Bank and roll its responsibilities into the Department of Transportation appears to have a chance of success as does one that would require prioritizing road projects with maintenance and repair of existing roads as the top priority.
In her State of the State address, Gov. Nikki Haley urged state lawmakers to fix crumbling roads and bridges.
“The citizens of South Carolina deserve to drive on roads that aren’t littered with potholes and on bridges they know won’t fall down” Haley said.
Haley added she would not support increased taxes to fund the necessary repairs, but offered some minor switching around of current revenue to provide an additional approximately $77 million for road repairs.
A bill sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell would redirect all of the money collected in sales tax on automobiles, approximately $100 million per year, to road work.
If both of the above measures are taken, the additional $177 million would be only a small part of what is needed. The DOT expects approximately $1.5 billion for road expenses this year, 60% of that amount coming from the federal government.
The DOT’s own estimates say twice that amount is needed annually for the next 20 years just to bring the current road system to “good” condition.
For too long, South Carolina has used road funds for pet road projects at the neglect of most of the highway and secondary road system. It will be interesting to see if the General Assembly can begin to get it right this year.
These new legislative initiatives do not bode well for the push for Interstate 73 construction by Horry County legislators. However, the cost of that new road is much too high and the benefits way too low to make it a reasonable project.