COLUMBIA, SC (WCBD) — State senators working on a plan to fix South Carolina roads heard from the SCDOT secretary Wednesday how far new money will go. Secretary Christy Hall told senators that an additional $400 million a year, the amount the DOT would get in a House-passed plan, would prevent the decay of 95 percent of the state’s Interstate highways, but would prevent the decay of less than half of state primary roads. And that’s just preventing decay, not bringing them up to “good” condition, she said.
It would take an additional $600 million a year to prevent decay on the Interstates, prevent the decay of half the state’s primary roads, and replace outdated bridges. “We believe we could completely eliminate the structurally deficient bridges on the Interstates and primaries,” Hall told senators. “That’s about 300 bridges. 300 bridges in this state are on our Interstates or primary system that are structurally deficient.”
She also told senators that waiting to fix roads would cost more in the long run. A recent project to resurface part of I-85 in Spartanburg turned into a rebuilding project instead of repaving after it was discovered the road was in much worse shape than first thought.
Senators also questioned the past and current chairmen of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board. The bank provides financing for road projects of more than $100 million. Cities and counties apply to the bank, laying out the need for the road improvements and where the city or county will come up with matching funds.
But Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, questioned the bank’s priorities. He wants to know why a project to widen state Highway 51 in the Pee Dee got funding instead of improving I-85 in the Upstate. “It’s obvious to me that a major highway like Interstate 85 should receive priority before we have a secondary road in a rural area being funded by something like the Infrastructure Bank,” he said after the meeting.
Senators are talking about restructuring the SCDOT and the Infrastructure Bank as part of an overall roads bill. Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said, “If we ever get a bill to the finish line, part of that may include some additional reporting from the SIB. ‘This is what we did, Sen. Coleman. This is what we funded. These were the applications that we turned down.'”
Senator Peeler asked why the state has a separate DOT Commission and Infrastructure Bank Board, and wondered why they couldn’t be merged so there’s only one group deciding road priorities. Infrastructure Bank Board attorney Jim Holly said the bank board is separate because its members have experience in handling bonds, which gives credit rating agencies more confidence in what South Carolina is doing.
Senators are expected to start debating a roads plan on the Senate floor next week.