Believe it or not, there are other roads in the state besides Interstate 526 — 41,429 miles of them.
And they're not in such great shape.
As Prentiss Findlay recently reported, SC DOT is facing a projected $30 billion funding shortfall, without which, roads will fall into disrepair, bridges will collapse, and we'll all be stuck in rush hour traffic.
Seriously though, it doesn't take an engineer to figure out what happens to the roads if we don't perform routine maintenance.
The committee that created the report listed 18 possible funding sources. They are just that, possibilities, options.
And most people won't like most of them.
For instance, tolls. Yes, that's a real option. A vastly unpopular one for anything but the proposed Interstate 73, but an option nonetheless.
Rental car taxes: South Carolina doesn't tax rental cars. As the No. 1 tourist destination in the galaxy, surely we can generate some additional funding there.
Electric or non-motorized vehicle fees: This lets you tax the golf cart crowd and the bike crowd. South Carolina doesn't have a golf cart fee, but golf carts are allowed on the roads. Seems like another untapped source of revenue.
And no state charges a bike-user fee. This would take away the arguments from a lot of diehard motor vehicle users, the ones who complain about having to share the road with bicyclists. Of course, if you charge bicyclists a user fee, they're really going to want some assurance of road safety.
Pledge drive: OK, not an option listed in the report. But hey, it works for ETV. Use those big overhead highway message boards to encourage people to text a donation to SCDOT--after they've safely reached their destinations, of course.
None of these amounts to more than a drop in the bucket. In fact, the committee recommended that the state diversify its revenue base. Which brings us to two more of the alternatives: the gas tax and the general fund.
DOT Commissioner Craig Forrest was the only commissioner on the committee that generated the report, and he thinks increasing the gas tax is inevitable.
“If you haven't raised the gas tax since 1987, and you are serious about addressing the department's funding needs, that would probably be one you're going to tackle. I can't see how you would not raise the gas tax along with several others should you choose to take possibilities off the menu of opportunity.”
Of course, with fuel efficiency on the rise, that's already a diminishing source of revenue, even if our fourth-lowest fuel tax rate in the country is increased.
No. 10 on the same list is money from the general fund.
That's where Berkeley Republican Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, comes in.
Grooms pre-filed a bill Thursday that would allot money from the general fund to the DOT, provided that state revenues are increasing. If state revenue is flat or goes down, no money would be diverted to DOT. Presuming revenue increases steadily, it would start by diverting 1 percent of the general fund revenue and in the fifth year, up to 5 percent of the state's general fund would be allocated for highway maintenance.
Grooms knows that's a gamble too, a gamble on a continued economic recovery. “If this had been in place 10 years ago, it would definitely be fully funded right now,” Grooms said. Five years ago, not so much.
Neither solution by itself is enough to fix the shortfall. Even Grooms admits his plan, if fully funded, would generate funds equal to the gas tax.
So yes, there needs to be creativity, there needs to be a push for alternative revenue sources.
And exploring more options for pedestrians, bikes and mass transit can't hurt either.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.