A total of $463 million in federal stimulus funds is slated for South Carolina for highway projects.
While there is debate over whether stimulus money is helping the states, South Carolina state highway engineers say these federal funds are helping to bring the state’s highway systems up to date.
Tony Shepard, state traffic operations engineer with SCDOT, says one of those improvements involves weather stations, cameras, video devices, and the communication backbone for highways.
Shepard says, “If it wasn’t for stimulus funds, this particular project would not be going forward. It was one that we have had prepared for some time, as we see the need for it but there was just not the money to expand the infrastructure.”
Shepard says this system actually brings the state’s highways up to the speed like those on the information superhighway. He says,”Basically, it’s taking our technology that we are using on our traffic cameras and our message boards–people know them as Amber Alert boards–that we put the information on. We’re actually going away from the old dial-up technology to a fiber optic direct connection to those devices.”
According the recent national highway construction industry study, called the TRIP Report, nearly half South Carolina’s major urban roads are congested, with 28 perent of all major roads in poor or mediocre condition.
Carolyn Bonifas of TRIP was in the state recently to make the case for road improvements to state legislators. She says, “the increasing congestion on the system is hampering business development, it’s keeping the state’s residents and businesses from efficiently getting where they’d like to go. In addition to increasingly congested roads, the roads are deteriorated as well as the bridges here in South Carolina.”
Scott Fant, a construction engineer and chairman of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix our Roads, has been in the business for 37 years. He says, “I notice the condition of roads because that is my business. I look at them daily when I drive across the state and I just pick up on things that you don’t pick up. It’s sad that one time South Carolina had one of the best road systems in the U.S., in my opinion, especially in the Southeast. Today we can’t say that.”
Fant, of Sloan Construction, says the South Carolina Alliance to Fix our Roads keeps bringing the issue of the state’s road conditions back to state legislators, “for many years.”
“In the situation of the economy, we’re not going to get anything this year,” says Fant. “We’re hoping again for next year. We’re just trying to keep iton the forefront and stoke the fire.”
Road construction industry groups and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce support the idea of an extra tax on gasoline, what they are calling a “user fee.”