Every South Carolina taxpayer should tune in to the noble work of the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads. Its acronym is “SCFor,” and its mission is clearly implied in its name. Its diverse membership is molded by one common purpose — fix the roads, already ... dang it!
And, praise be, it made a little progress in the last session of the S.C. General Assembly. The Legislature committed $50 million of recurring funds to leverage bonded debt over 10 years for a $500 million highway-and-bridge-fix program. A little something is better than a lot of nothing, folks.
But let’s be clear — our state must spend $1.4 billion annually for 20 years to remedy a generation of pig-headed neglect of our highway system. We’re simply not investing enough in the state roads system. By definition, we’re in the proverbial hole and still digging.
At its annual meeting last Monday in Columbia, a panel of three state senators and four House members saluted SCFor and encouraged even more “input” and “pressure” and “tell-us-about-this” lobbying when the General Assembly cranks up again in January.
The SCFor leaders promised just that. They believe the urgency of upgrading state roads and bridges has finally registered on the legislative radar screen — as a tiny blip that warns of a looming crisis. Confecting a public policy package that assures adequate funding and transparent priority processes and credible project management adds up to a formidable expectation of our Legislature which is largely possessed by a “no new taxes” dogma.
Election season is approaching, and the legislators were candid — progress in the last session might or might not be one small step in a long, incremental political and legislative march toward adequate funding for the state highway system.
Roads always have been a key to our state’s social progress and its broadband of economic development. And roads are the key to that one-word mantra of state policy just now — jobs! But highway system funding has been an intractable legislative issue for more than 20 years. For a generation, we South Carolinians have condoned the steady decline of our highways and bridges infrastructure — at a time when that infrastructure is never more important to our state’s economic and social progress. We can blame the Legislature and our governors; and we should blame ourselves.
So SCFor is reaching out to state taxpayers, too. Its online video, “S.C. Wakeup,” is excellent. The bottom-line message is that the proposition of good roads should trump the Legislature’s relentless aversion to increasing the state’s user-based fuel tax, and that nobody likes taxes — new or otherwise — but South Carolinians don’t like crumbling roads and bridges, either.
This video follows a mother and her two young sons “using” the highway system. It’s a dramatic reference to public safety, but it emphasizes some personal pocketbook data that snap the issue into an up-close-and-personal focus.
Gov. Nikki Haley and too many legislators balk at any mention of bumping up the state’s static fuel tax, but South Carolinians will surely understand the proposition, “Would you spend $15 to save $75 — and maybe some lives, too?”
The video confirms what most motorists already know — highway traffic throughout our state is increasing. In fact, it has increased by 43 percent over the last 10 years. But we learn that South Carolinians annually waste nearly 19 million hours sitting in congested traffic. Bad roads cost the average motorist $255 annually, the insidious price of wasted fuel and vehicle repairs, large and small. Impacts on quality of life — like time spent with family — are not included.
The video concludes that S.C. motorists pay less than $10 a month on average to use the highway “system” — and that “system” includes more than 1,600 bridges and overpasses needing repairs — some urgently. An estimated 70 per cent of the pavement in South Carolina is in poor condition. The costs of vehicle accidents throughout the state are $3.3 billion annually — and rising.
(You can view the video at http://www.sctransportation.com/)
For sure, road funding issues are by definition about money and the logic of users pay and we get what we pay for. But it’s also about the public’s confidence in its government, the public’s knowledge of how critically important our state’s road system is to our economic well-being and our basic qualities of life — and how poorly we have translated this importance into public policy.
SCFor’s initiative to communicate with taxpayers while lobbying the Legislature is a timely strategy that just might shake Gov. Haley and legislators from their dogma-induced inertia. This work should be joined by all who have a stake in the adequacy and safety of our state’s highway system.
That would be all of us.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, served as president/CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, and was president/CEO of the Port of New Orleans 1986-2002. A North Charleston city councilman, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.