Every day South Carolinians drive on new, efficient highways and bridges. Most drivers and walkers can appreciate the eight lanes, the bike-ped lane and the magnificent view from the Ravenel Bridge on the Cooper River. Tourists in the Grand Strand can use the Conway By-Pass to get to and from the beach, while residents can use the Carolina Bays Parkway to travel back and forth between North Myrtle and Myrtle Beach. All of these facilities provide improved hurricane evacuation should the need arise.
But very few drivers probably ever think about how the Ravenel Bridge became reality, or how sections of interstates were widened to six lanes and resurfaced. These projects became bridges and highways due in part to the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SCTIB).
The SCTIB was created by the General Assembly in 1997. The bank is not a large agency. The SCTIB is a seven-member board which is assisted by SCDOT staff for day-to-day operations, and contracts for financial and legal services on an “as needed” basis. Members of the SCTIB board are appointed by the governor and the legislature. The SCDOT Commission Chairman also serves as a member.
The SCTIB is not the only bank of its kind in the country. Thirty-two other states have similar banks to enhance the financing of transportation projects, however, the South Carolina SCTIB is recognized nationally as the largest and most active State Infrastructure Bank in the nation — the SIB in South Carolina has provided more financial assistance for transportation projects than the other 32 banks combined.
The SCTIB is charged with using available funding sources to assist major transportation projects (those in excess of $100 million in value).
Those projects are required to improve mobility and safety, or promote economic development, or increase the quality of life in South Carolina. In many cases, these projects would still be on the wish list if not for the SCTIB.
Don Leonard from Myrtle Beach serves as the chairman of the SCTIB. He believes the role of the bank is to get important and needed projects moving forward.
“We have too many significant transportation needs in our state that must be funded sooner rather than later. If our state is going to compete in the 21st century, we need the infrastructure that will serve our people and our economic development,” Leonard said.
The SCTIB has had a major hand in getting projects to construction. The bank has approved $4.5 billion in financial assistance during the last decade. Some of the projects that have benefited from the SCTIB’s help include: the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston County, the Conway By-Pass and Carolina Bays Parkway in Horry County, the widening and other improvements made to interstate highways in York, Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg Counties, completion of Phase I of the Palmetto Parkway in Aiken County and the widening of SC 170 in Beaufort County. In addition, the SCTIB provided $30 million for the installation of median cable barriers on the interstate highways. The cables have sustained more than 12,000 “hits” saving hundreds of lives and preventing catastrophic “crossover crashes.”
Transportation Secretary H.B. Limehouse Jr. served on the SCTIB Board at its inception during his tenure as the Chairman of the SCDOT Commission.
“South Carolina had several major projects that were sitting on the drawing board, and getting more expensive as time passed. The creation of the SCTIB was the most expedient way to make these projects happen. I am proud of what we started in 1997, and I’m proud of what the bank continues to do today,” Limehouse said.
The SCTIB’s role in funding transportation projects goes beyond the initial providing of financial assistance. The SCTIB continues to manage those finances even after the projects have begun. Through refinancing of debt and using other creative and innovative techniques, the SCTIB has saved the taxpayers $120 million during the past four years. These savings have been reinvested in more highway projects.
The SCTIB’s work goes on and the bank’s efforts are visible today with construction continuing on the widening of SC 6 and SC 60 in Lexington County. This project includes two additional lanes across the Lake Murray Dam. Work is under way on two intracoastal waterway bridges in Horry County and construction is on-going on Phase II of the Palmetto Parkway in Aiken County.
Pete Poore is director of communications at SCDOT. CEG