The state highway commission might like the public to view its final abandonment of a boondoggle-ridden bond issue as a “housekeeping” matter.
But it’s far more than that.
By terminating the $344 million bond proposal once and for all on Thursday, the commission effectively conceded that the plan was a bad way to do business. In just about every sense.
The bond issue was all but wrapped up last year when then-highway commissioner Sarah Nuckles went public with her complaints that it would be irresponsible to use most of the DOT’s remaining borrowing capacity on projects that generally weren’t on the state’s road priority list. And she made the point that the public had hardly been involved in the process. There was inadequate public notification and no hearing on the plan.
But when the public learned all about that plan, the commission got an earful. And when the state Department of Transportation found itself unable to pay its contractors soon thereafter, the bond proposal was put on hold.
On Thursday, it was swept away for good.
“It is strictly housekeeping, just to clean it up, get it aside, focus on the future of what we need to be working on, that’s all,” commission chairman Eddie Adams told The Greenville News.
As a result of the commission’s action, the five projects on the list will now have to compete with others on the DOT’s priority road list for scarce highway funds.
The most controversial project on the bond list was a $105 million interchange at I-73 and I-95 in Dillon County.
The larger I-73 project to Myrtle Beach would cost an estimated $2.3 billion — and has yet to be funded.
Also on the list was a widening project for I-26 that already is a ranked priority. As such it can compete on its own merits for funding.
The priority list was created as part of the legislative reform of DOT in 2007, and was intended to limit political influence in road building.
The bond proposal demonstrated the inadequacy of the reform measure, and the need for further legislative action.
Adhering to objectively determined priorities is essential if the state is to make any real headway on vital highway improvements.
And that won’t get any easier. A report to the highway commission Thursday concluded that the DOT needs $30 billion more than it can expect in funding over the next 20 years.
Clearly, the state doesn’t have the option of building roads that don’t qualify as essential.
The highway commission recognized that by finally putting an end to this boondoggle.
Now it should concentrate on real priorities.