With $3 million, the S.C. Department of Corrections could hire about 70 officers; a school district could hire 60 teachers; or the S.C. Department of Transportation could hire 50 engineers.
So the idea that the powers that be are asking permission to spend $3-$4 million more than necessary to build a bridge over the Wando River should make the state's fiscally conservative congressmen take action.
Opponents of the proposed 55-foot bridge on Highway 41 have asked Sen. Tim Scott, a hard-liner when it comes to spending, to intervene. They say a 35-foot span is adequate. Moreover, it's what most people seem to want.
This would be a good test for Sen. Scott's tenacity - and for his colleagues'.
The bridge is needed - it has been for more than 20 years - to replace the 1939 drawbridge, which is not even functional enough for engineers to open it for boat traffic.
Initially people wanted to replace it with another drawbridge, but authorities vetoed the idea because it would cost more than a fixed span.
Ironically, now authorities are asking for a $36 million bridge that is 20 feet higher - and millions of dollars more expensive - than experts say is necessary. It makes you wonder what happened to that fiduciary stewardship.
The S.C. Department of Transportation, Mount Pleasant town officials and many members of the public have called for a 35-foot span. Locally, the Coast Guard has said 35 feet would be high enough for navigability. Further, boat traffic in that area has not been an issue. In 2009, boaters requested to have the bridge opened eight times.
Berkeley County Council in 2006 endorsed a 25-foot span, but Councilmember Tim Callanan said members later agreed to let Mount Pleasant take the lead in the process.
But the conundrum is that authorities say Coast Guard officials in Washington are likely to reject a request for the 35-foot span. That would mean starting the time-consuming replacement process over while the existing bridge continues to deteriorate.
The concern is great enough that Mount Pleasant officials have changed their stance and now endorse the 55-foot span.
The lower span is preferable to people for a number of reasons. One is aesthetics. The bridge goes from suburban Mount Pleasant to a mostly rural, wooded part of Berkeley County. A bridge towering over the skyline would be out-of-place.
A concern for conservationists is that the higher span will open the door to commercial waterfront development upriver from the bridge. They want to keep the pristine river setting that way.
And, of course, there's the commonsense issue of cost. A million here, a million there, and soon you're talking about real money.
It isn't often that elected officials can win the hearts of constituents by asking for less money to be spent on local projects. This is just such an opportunity.
Sen. Scott should heed the pleas of his constituents, and he should have the support of his fellow members of the South Carolina Congressional Delegation.