As President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into action on Monday, the South Carolina Department of Transportation was already prepared. DOT Director Buck Limehouse has been planning for this day for months. His department has researched possible projects across the state and already made recommendations. The stimulus package will allocate $315 million to South Carolina with the stipulation that it must be spent in a timely manner. The State Transportation Commission met on Tuesday and was told they have 120 days (from the day the funds are received) to appropriate $160 million to state road projects and one year to appropriate the rest. Any money not appropriated will default back to the federal government to be redistributed nationally. Limehouse says though his department has prepared for this moment, the final decision as to where the money goes belongs to the commission.
“If I open my mouth and pick any project then that’s the one you’re going to say I’m endorsing. I’m not endorsing any of them. We’re following Act 114. That provides for us to set priorities and stick with them and that’s what we intend to do unless something changes. The commission can pick any project they want. So far…you heard the same thing I heard…I think they’re going to try and go along (with the original plans).”
Limehouse reminded us, however, that the main goal of the stimulus package is to get people back to work. “The big picture,” says Limehouse, “is that the conference committee passed a bill…a compromise bill…and the president signed it today in Colorado. All of the states are being asked to put more people to work in infrastructure programs.
“Most (of the programs) are highways but it is also for high speed rail and transit, airports, water and sewer…so there is a lot to this and it’s complicated. I’m not sure anyone knows all the answers. I certainly don’t have them all.”
Though the main goal of the stimulus package is to get people back to work, Limehouse admitted he was unsure of how many jobs these projects will create.
“That was the topic that was on the table with the secretary and 35 out of the 50 heads of state transportations. Nobody had a good handle on that and we’re going to report and ask our contractors to report the number of jobs. The reporting is going to be very difficult because nobody really knows exactly what that number is and I don’t have a number for you.”