New roads bill advances in Senate, swells to $4B

Grace Beahm/Staff

A $2.2 billion plan to improve interstates, roads and bridges across the state heads to the Senate floor.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a roads bill Wednesday that leverages $200 million in state Department of Motor Vehicle fees and car sales tax dollars into a multi-billion-dollar borrowing proposal to fix crumbling infrastructure.

The move also frees up S.C. Department of Transportation money , said agency Secretary Christy Hall, leading to $4 billion worth of upgrades over the next decade.

“I see this as a terrific shot in the road-problem arm,” Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said of the measure he authored. “I think it’s a step the people of this state will be extremely happy with.”

Major interstate projects to be completed under the plan include widening part of Interstate 85 in Cherokee County and fixing the intersections of Interstates 20 and 26 north of Columbia, known as “malfunction junction.” However, money would not go toward extending the Interstate 526 loop around Charleston.

The money allows for the replacement of 400 load-restricted and structurally deficient bridges statewide, Hall said.

The bill drew broad support with only two senators voting against the bill. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has been critical of previous proposals, was reassured that DOT will determine which projects the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank will finance with the debt.

“I think it’s good for the overall roads system,” Davis said.

Lawmakers noted the one-time money in the plan is not a sustainable long-term funding solution.

Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, who had some reservations earlier in the week said Wednesday the new bill could breathe life into a committee that will hash out differences in the other roads bill. That bill has become, essentially, a DOT Commission restructuring measure.

“This may make a conference committee report possible that may not have been possible,” Hayes said.

The House picked Reps. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, and Brian White, R-Anderson, to be part of the conference committee.

Simrill said predictions by Gov. Nikki Haley and senators that the roads bill is dead were overblown. “It’s interesting somebody would say a bill is dead before it’s completed the legislative process,” Simrill said.

The Senate was not in session Wednesday and did not appoint conferees to the committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.