South Carolina’s method of funding transportation projects is unfair, according to conservation groups that are asking lawmakers to change the way infrastructure funding is allocated.
At a Senate briefing this week, Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League told lawmakers that the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which allocates money for road construction/maintenance across the state, operates as a “shadow Department of Transportation” by making decisions about funding “entirely separate from the DOT.”
Since the STIB was founded in 1997, it has allocated $4.1 billion in funding for transportation projects. However, 33 percent of that funding has gone to a single county (Charleston), and 95 percent has gone to six counties — Aiken, Charleston, Florence, Greenville, Horry and York. In fact, 35 of South Carolina’s 42 counties haven’t received a single cent from the STIB during its 15-year history.
Why are six counties getting the lion’s share of South Carolina’s infrastructure funding? The answer is simple. Of the seven members of the STIB board, six of them are from the counties getting the funding!
If that doesn’t seem fair to you, you’re not alone. During this week’s Senate briefing, Sen. John Courson (R-Richland) likened the STIB to a “Bernie Madoff-style Ponzi scheme.” Lawmakers have tried to eliminate the STIB in the past, but those measures have failed. “The decision-makers have consistently run away from the solution,” commented Beach, saying lawmakers are “concerned about offending the people who control the money.”
This year, however, South Carolina can’t afford to put off these reforms. While the Department of Transportation takes in approximately $1.3 billion in annual revenue, the annual cost of bringing the Palmetto State’s highway system “to a minimum level of quality” is projected at $1.4 billion. Nearly half of the state’s Interstate miles are rated “fair” to “very poor,” according to Beach, and one in five bridges are classified as weight-limited or structurally deficient.
With so much maintenance that needs to be done on South Carolina’s highways, you might think the STIB would devote some of its money toward upkeep. However, you’d be wrong! In the 15 years the STIB has been around, not a cent of its funding has gone toward maintenance. DOT is left to cover the difference, but simply doesn’t have the money.
Infrastructure is the lifeblood of South Carolina’s economy, and maintaining it should be a top priority for lawmakers. If the legislature doesn’t act soon, the Palmetto State will continue to lose jobs and business to states which properly maintain their highway systems.