Invest in state’s future by passing infrastructure bill

In this file photo, a large pothole on Ashley Avenue near Bee Street streches far into the left hand lane in downtown Charleston. (Grace Beahm/File)

We have less than a week left in the 2015 legislative session, and the South Carolina Senate must get into action to pass a bill on the most critical need facing our state — funding for infrastructure.

Last August, three of South Carolina’s leading metro chambers (the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia Chamber and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce), along with a number of other private and public sector leaders, met for half a day to develop a unified voice on achieving a substantive funding stream to meet our state’s infrastructure needs. At the end of that day, we agreed to urge every member of the General Assembly and Gov. Nikki Haley to identify a new, dedicated funding mechanism to address South Carolina’s dangerous road conditions and to stress that this need is urgent. Our constant drumbeat since that day in August has been just that: Pass a bill that raises the money needed to address infrastructure.

We are not alone in our efforts. In fact we have rarely seen such a broad coalition of support on this issue — from the business community to the trucking industry to AARP — across our state citizens and businesses are point-blank asking our state elected leadership to fix South Carolina’s roads. Action on this issue will highlight the Legislature’s interest in listening and responding to their constituents.

There are three days left in the 2015 legislative session and it does not appear there is a consensus in the Senate on this issue. We urge the leaders of both parties to come together in a bipartisan manner and find a way to pass a bill. Some argue we could allocate one-time money towards the issue. Others worry about the consequence of raising a “tax” versus seeing this as a chance to invest in South Carolina’s citizens by protecting them on their daily drives and guaranteeing them future high quality work opportunities.

From the Upstate to the Lowcountry, our state’s roads and bridges are in dire need of repair and expansion to address congestion, commerce and safety. We can’t wait another year to address this issue.

Our state highway system, the fourth largest state-maintained system in the country, is currently staring at a $42 billion need. A study released earlier this year from The Road Information Program (TRIP), a national transportation research group, showed that today South Carolinians are spending more than $3 billion annually fixing their vehicles, in lost time and wasting fuel because of traffic congestion and traffic accidents. That is twice the amount in funding that is needed annually to fix the problem.

Just last week, in both Columbia and Charleston, there were traffic accidents that injured motorists and held up traffic for hours. These incidents are just two examples of how congested roadways and deplorable conditions impacted citizens and businesses. Modern, up-to-date infrastructure must be maintained for our state to successfully compete in the global marketplace. Without the ability to effectively move goods and services to customers, businesses will be at a competitive disadvantage and job creation will suffer.

South Carolina’s roadways are the heart of our transportation infrastructure. Like the human heart, when the arteries are clogged you have to find a way to unclog them or the consequences lead to tragedy.

We cannot let our roadways deteriorate to the place where we find ourselves unable to unclog them. The result would be devastating to our state’s economy and to our citizens.

It has been 27 years since funding for infrastructure has been thoroughly addressed by our state legislature. Our state elected leaders stand at an inflection point for defining the future of South Carolina.

Courageous champions of the public trust will step forward and break the stalemate of inaction surrounding the funding of our highways and bridges.

Thank you for showing us that you listened and acted by passing the infrastructure bill.

Bryan Derreberry is president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce; Carl Blackstone is president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber; Ben Haskew is president and CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.