September 4, 2015

AAA Carolinas projects record number of July 4 travelers in SC

AAA Carolinas is projecting a record 614,700 South Carolinians will travel at least 50 miles or more from home this Independence Day holiday, which will mark the highest number of travelers based on surveys since 2001.

Most will be driving to their destinations rather than flying, with nearly 541,000 South Carolinians expected to hit the road.

AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright told South Carolina Radio Network that lower gas prices means more cars on the road this year. “We’re paying about 95 cents less at the pump than we did the same time a year ago. The current average price in South Carolina right now is at $2.44, so prices are lower than they have been in a few years.”

Rising income, driven by a strong employment market is fueling the Independence Day holiday travel. Despite recent seasonal increases, gas prices remain well below last year’s levels, which has helped fuel disposable income for South Carolinians.

The current average gasoline price in South Carolina at $2.44. The highest average price is in Charleston at $2.52 and the lowest in Spartanburg at $2.36.

Traveling south, motorists will find gas prices averaging $2.66 in Georgia and $2.68 in Florida. Heading north, Virginia’s average is $2.57 and going west Tennessee’s average is at $2.53 with Kentucky highest priced neighbor with an average price of $2.70. South Carolina’s prices are consistently below its neighbors due to the state’s comparatively low fuel tax.

Wright also said that with the holiday being on a Saturday will add to more cars on the highways. “When you have something on a Saturday there tends to be more people off work, which means more people on the roads.”

While most South Carolinians will be driving to their destinations, an estimated 54,300 are expected to travel by air, an increase of 1.5 percent from last year. Approximately 75,000 are predicted to use other modes of travel, including buses, trains and cruises an increase of 0.5 percent from 2014.

Grand Strand may finally get rail service again after four-year gap

An unused bridge near the Waccamaw River in Conway is one of many for the former Carolina Southern Railroad (File)

An unused bridge near the Waccamaw River in Conway is one of many for the former Carolina Southern Railroad (File)

A Kentucky company has announced plans to buy a shuttered 80-mile long Pee Dee rail line, potentially reopening South Carolina’s Grand Strand region to cargo trains for the first time in nearly four years.

R.J. Corman Railroad has agreed to purchase the former Carolina Southern line for $13.9 million, according to an announcement from several of the parties involved. Carolina Southern stopped operating after the Federal Railroad Administration declared some of its bridges unsafe for travel in 2011. Owner Ken Pippin had said his company could not afford the necessary repairs and failed in its application for federal grant funds. In response, officials in Marion, Horry, and Columbus, NC counties, fearful of the negative impact on their areas industrial sector, began a legal fight with the company to abandon its rail.

An agreement was eventually signed last year between Carolina Southern and the two-state rail committee representing those governments. That agreement cleared the way for the counties to find a third party for much of the rail line, which ended up being R.J. Corman.

An R.J. Corman representative said both parties hope to close on the deal by August 1. Then the attention will shift toward repairing the line’s aging track and bridges.

[Read more…]

Port of Charleston deepening project gets key federal approval

A SC Ports Authority crane moves up the Cooper River earlier this week to make room for 2 new Post-Panamax cranes at the authority's Wando Terminal (Image: SCPA)

A SC Ports Authority crane moves up the Cooper River earlier this week to make room for 2 new Post-Panamax cranes at the authority’s Wando Terminal (Image: SCPA)

A plan that the Port of Charleston says will let it compete for huge container ships following next year’s Panama Canal expansion moved forward Thursday.

The Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project received unanimous approval from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Review Board Thursday for its Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement.

The final report will now be released to state and local agencies for a 30-day review period. Upon review from the agencies, the Army Corps of Engineers will sign the report in September and then present it to Congress. “Once the Chief’s Report is sent to Congress, authorization and funding appropriation will need to be secured to begin the construction phase of the project,” according to Lisa Metheney, Head Civilian of the Charleston District of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Metheney told South Carolina Radio Network that the next step is the design phase. “We are still a few years away from the work in the harbor actually starting. Right now the next step is the design phase which will take about 18 to 24 months.”

[Read more…]

Uber bill clears House, up for vote in Senate

A bill that would allow ridesharing company Uber to operate permanently in South Carolina is a Senate vote away from the governor’s desk.

The House of Representatives voted 96-2 on Wednesday to approve a compromise bill that would put regulations in place on “transportation network companies” like Uber. The California-based company has been operating under a temporary Public Service Commission until legislators could craft regulations for the relatively new type of business. That permit expires June 30.

The bill’s chief negotiator in the Senate, State Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, is optimistic that it will pass in his chamber. “It hasn’t quite passed in the Senate yet, but we hope to get that accomplished,” he told South Carolina Radio Network after the House vote.

A conference committee of three senators and three House members reached a deal Wednesday, potentially ending months of uncertainty about Uber’s future in South Carolina. “There were a few changes to the bill in the conference committee that we didn’t have in the Senate version,” Bennett said. “But I think all those changes are something that our side can live with.”

The bill’s primary sponsor State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said Uber has a positive impact on the state. “In my hometown… the hospitality industry and technology industry that’s growing there are both big, big supporters of Uber,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

Reiser, LLC develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app. The program allows consumers to submit a trip request which is then routed to drivers. Uber does not consider itself a taxi service, believing it only provides the link between independent drivers and potential customers. Traditional taxi services say the company gets an unfair advantage because it does not have to follow the same requirements on insurance, licenses and fees.

The final legislation would instead regulate Uber and its drivers as a “transportation network company.” Among the regulations are a requirement that drivers have at least 50/100/50 insurance coverage. It also specifies that cars must meet a 19-point safety inspection and have a removable emblem to identify their vehicles while they’re available to riders. Drivers would also have to pass a state criminal background check before they could begin shuttling passengers.

SC House sets aside half of surplus budget dollars for roadwork, sends to Senate

House Speaker Jay Lucas addresses the chamber before the start of Tuesday's debate (Image: SCETV)

House Speaker Jay Lucas addresses the chamber before the start of Tuesday’s debate (Image: SCETV)

The South Carolina House on Wednesday sent to their Senate counterparts a bill that would set aside roughly half of higher-than-expected revenue for counties to repair existing roads.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the House approved a “supplemental” budget dictating how to spend roughly $373 million in additional General Fund revenue. The funds were made available last month after the state’s Board of Economic Advisors predicted an improving economy would bring in additional revenue than originally expected this upcoming year.

Lawmakers are trying to pass the supplemental budget quickly, as the House and Senate have halted negotiations the full fiscal year 2016 budget until it passes. Senators are expected to push for a larger share dedicated to road repairs.

The House plan would provide county transportation councils with $150 million in total nonrecurring revenue to be used on maintenance of state-owned secondary roads. The language clarifies the money can only be used for roads (rather than sidewalks or public transit, for instance) that are not otherwise eligible for federal funding.

[Read more…]