The board that oversees the South Carolina highway system is delaying a huge new package of construction due to financial concerns.
The Transportation Commission originally planned to pass a $344 million bond package Thursday that includes work on the new Interstate 73, as well as an extension of the John Hardee Expressway in the Midlands. The five total projects were originally approved in April– before money issues began surfacing at the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT), including very late payments to contractors.
Those financial issues brought political heat onto the commissioners, who are mostly appointed by the state Legislature (with one of the seven chosen by the governor). Many legislators and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis questioned if it was wise to borrow that much money while the agency was already struggling with cash-flow issues.
On Thursday, the commission first voted to pass on the bond package to the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee (the next step in the approval process). However, concerns by Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge (who does not serve on the commission) caused the panel to rethink its decision. St. Onge said he wanted to make sure the agency could get its cash-flow issues settled before taking on new debt. He worried the agency might have to get advance payments from the federal government again next summer to pay its contractors on time.
Commissioners eventually compromised by voting to hold off on advancing the new construction for now. It’s not known when they will take the package up again; members only said they would wait until SCDOT got its fiscal house in order.
State Sens. Ronnie Cromer (R-Prosperity) and Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) spoke to the commission during the meeting in an unsuccessful push for the new construction.