With South Carolina’s main port getting an expedited upgrade thanks to the Obama Administration, the state is expected to see a big increase in shipping traffic once the Port of Charleston is expanded. Today, we learned the state will receive $1.2 billion in federal infrastructure money over the next two fiscal years:
About 60% of the federal money for 2013, about $368 million, is geared toward spending on U.S. highways and interstates in South Carolina, [SC Dept. of Transportation deputy director John] Walsh said.
Other allocations for the year include: $169 million for state and local surface transportation projects; $40 million for highway safety; $15.5 million for transportation alternatives; $11 million to reduce congestion and improve air quality; and $2.7 million for metropolitan planning.
State transportation officials plan to use some of that money to widen a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 26 from Lexington County to Calhoun County, and to resurface another 10 miles of the highway on the way to Charleston. S.C. Chamber of Commerce President Otis Rawl called I-26 “the lifeblood of business in South Carolina.”
Many of South Carolina’s leaders, including Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Jim DeMint, are quick to criticize federal spending on local infrastructure projects and other investments designed to stimulate the economy. Gov. Haley vetoed millions in state spending designated for what she called “pork” projects, even though many programs cut by the governor were perfectly valid uses of taxpayer money.
However, CNBC recently ranked South Carolina 19th in the country for infrastructure and transportation. Georgia and North Carolina, on the other hand, were ranked second and third. Those states will also be vying for the increase in shipping traffic provided by the Obama Administration’s renewed focus on the country’s ports, so it is critical that South Carolina’s leaders recognize the importance of investing in infrastructure to help the state catch up to its neighbors.
A study by the University of Massachusetts found that infrastructure investment and economic growth are closely linked in the United States. According to the study, each $1 billion in new infrastructure spending creates about 18,000 jobs. By contrast, the study found that tax cuts create at most about 14,000 total jobs per $1 billion in household spending — 22 percent less than infrastructure investments.
With South Carolina’s unemployment continuing to rise, the path to improvement can be found in the kind of infrastructure investment infusion represented by federal spending on the state’s ports and highways. These project create jobs and a demand for labor which offers a spark of hope and growth for the backbones of our state’s economy.