South Carolina

S.C. Senate panel to consider spending $2.2 billion on roads

A Senate panel will consider Tuesday proposals to spend roughly $2.2 billion to fix congestion on heavily trafficked roads and replace crumbling bridges.

Two proposals, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, would divert revenue from some fees collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the amount of money raised by the $300 cap on vehicle sales taxes.

Those moves would raise about $200 million a year, according to state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley. The money then would be bonded through the controversial S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank, allowing the state to borrow about $2.2 billion for road projects, Grooms said.

Because bonded money must be used on projects that last longer than their debt payments, the money could not to used on some maintenance projects, including filling potholes. As a result, it would be spent on new construction to expand crowded roads or to replace crumbling bridges.

According to preliminary estimates:

▪  $550 million would be used on bridge replacements and to expand or improve existing state-maintained roads

▪  $895 million would be used to expand or improve existing interstates

▪  $715 million would be sent to the Infrastructure Bank to be used on projects approved by the bank’s board, which could include building new roads.

The Infrastructure Bank has drawn criticism from groups who say road maintenance – not new construction – should be the state’s priority. Critics, including the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, say politics drive which projects are approved by the bank.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said Monday he is concerned about sending more money to the Infrastructure Bank “without first reforming how the spending decisions are made.”

A bill that would change the structure of the Infrastructure Bank’s governing board likely will be sent Tuesday to a conference committee, made up of House members and senators, to work out differences in versions of legislation passed by each body.

Grooms, who chairs the Senate’s Transportation Committee, said he will push for the commission that oversees the Transportation Department to approve any decisions made by the Infrastructure Bank.

Grooms pushed for a Senate plan to spend an added $400 million a year from the state’s general fund budget on roads. However, that plan died in the S.C. House.

“With the number of legislative days dwindling, I believe this is probably our best hope of ensuring that additional monies will spent on roads this year,” Grooms said.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

$2.2 billion road plan

A panel of state senators will consider a proposal to raise roughly $2.2 billion to fix congested roads and replace crumbling bridges. Some of the money also could be used on new roads.

$550 million to replace bridges, and expand and improve existing state roads

$895 million to expand or improve existing interstates

$715 million for road projects approved by the Infrastructure Bank, which could include new roads

Preliminary estimates