House OKs $2B Road Bill in S.C.

A bill that would borrow $2 billion to fix major highways and bridges in South Carolina may have only a short distance left to go.

📅   Mon June 06, 2016 - Southeast Edition #12
Jeffrey Collins - ASSOCIATED PRESS


A bill that would borrow $2 billion to fix major highways and bridges in South Carolina may have only a short distance left to go.
A bill that would borrow $2 billion to fix major highways and bridges in South Carolina may have only a short distance left to go.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) A bill that would borrow $2 billion to fix major highways and bridges in South Carolina may have only a short distance left to go.

The House voted 102-3 May 24 to give key approval to a combined bill with both the extra money for roads and a change in the commission that runs the state Department of Transportation.

The Senate passed similar proposals separately, and Gov. Nikki Haley has indicated she supports them.

The vote with just six days left in the General Assembly's session put lawmakers as close as they have been during their two years in Columbia to putting a significant dent in the nearly $1 billion a year for 30 years the Department of Transportation said it needs to get South Carolina roads to good condition.

Currently, the DOT says 54 percent of the state's primary roads are now in poor condition, compared with 31 percent eight years ago.

“This is not the end all, to fix all. But it is the start to getting it fixed,' said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, the Anderson Republican who runs the chamber's budget committee.

The bill uses the remaining part of the state sales tax on vehicle purchases currently sent to the general budget fund and the fee paid for a driver's license to come up with $200 million, which would be used to get bonds of up to $2.2 billion over 10 years.

That money will free up funds the DOT would have spent on the bridge repairs and interstate widenings that can be used to pave rural roads and fix other problems, DOT Secretary Christy Hall has said.

The three House members who voted against the bill said the state shouldn't borrow money for these types of projects.

The DOT will used the borrowed money to fix the outdated and clogged intersection of Interstates 20, 26 and 126 northwest of Columbia and widen sections of Interstate 85 in Cherokee County and Interstate 26 in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. It also will eliminate the entire list of load-restricted bridges statewide, as well as 51 structurally deficient bridges on interstates and major highways.

The bill also allows the governor to appoint all the members of the DOT board. Currently, lawmakers appoint seven of the eight members. Under the bill, the board would pick the DOT secretary. That role is currently appointed by the governor.

The members who voted against the bill also said lawmakers should take more time to make sure reforms at DOT are working.

“We need to reform DOT before we throw buckets of money at them,' said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill.