In 2008, the Brookings Institution released Metro Nation which focuses on the metropolitan areas in our country.
Brookings research found that the drivers of our nation’s economy are the metropolitan areas. Consider, for example, that the top 100 metros in the country take up only 12 percent of the land area in our country yet they account for 65 percent of the nation’s population, 65 percent of all college graduates and 75 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.
In South Carolina, the 10 metro areas combined are where 75 percent of the state’s population lives, and they account for 81 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product.
It is no surprise that our metro areas are where the majority of growth is occurring in our state, and as a result have the greatest need for improved infrastructure.
Our chamber has built a strong working relationship with Brookings in recent years, in particular in asking for their expertise on how to fund needed metro infrastructure improvements.
Brookings often uses South Carolina’s State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) as a model of innovative funding for infrastructure. Yet within our own state, there are those who criticize what has become a national model.
The SIB was established by the General Assembly in 1997. Since that time, the bank has made more than $3 billion in loans — more than any other state infrastructure bank in the country.
One criticism of the SIB that has recently developed into popular political rhetoric is that certain areas of the state, Charleston specifically, are receiving too much funding. Several lawmakers are calling for a restructuring that would move the SIB directly under SCDOT or abolish it all together.
Since 1997, 16 counties and four municipalities across the state have all received funding through the SIB. One of the SIB’s criteria is for the applicant to provide a source to match SIB funds.
As lawmakers from other regions of the state continue to argue that the SIB awards too much money to the coast, it’s important to remember that four counties have passed transportation sales taxes for the purpose of funding infrastructure – three of the four counties are in our region (Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties).
In other words, we have put our money where our mouth is and are willing to bear our share of the burden.
The SIB was established to fund projects that cost in excess of $100 million. So, it only makes sense that the more expensive projects that are located in counties with a local transportation sales tax match receive a large portion of SIB funding.
All that goes to say that the Infrastructure Bank has been doing exactly what it was set up to do, and the result has been positive.
Economic development, job creation and quality of life improvements are all direct results of completed infrastructure projects.
Instead of complaining about the amount of infrastructure funding Charleston receives, perhaps our lawmakers should focus on how they can increase infrastructure funding statewide.
South Carolina’s gas tax, which has not changed since 1987, is currently the fourth lowest in the United States.
Yet, we have the fourth largest state-maintained highway system in the country.
Additionally, we have some of the deadliest roads in the country — currently the sixth highest highway fatality rate in the nation.
These statistics are sobering and provide a powerful reminder that we must continue to fight for more infrastructure funding.
Only by addressing this problem head on will we be able to meet our state’s future infrastructure requirements.
We hope that the decision makers in Columbia heed Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s call not to move backward by destroying the State Infrastructure Bank.
We urge them, instead, to move forward by developing long-term strategies to increase infrastructure funding and improve our roadways statewide, and to keep this innovative and successful model for funding our state’s transportation needs.
Bryan Derreberry is president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.