Upstate lawmakers are unhappy about transportation funding, which they say has favored Charleston and the Lowcountry over other parts of South Carolina. Many state senators who represent the Spartanburg and Greenville area are upset the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank has committed a half-billion dollars to expand Interstate 526 in Charleston.
The Infrastructure Bank is an independent entity that is responsible for securing financing on major construction projects, usually highways. Its board consists of five members (including two legislators) appointed by legislative leaders and two more chosen by the governor. Since its creation in 1997, roughly half of its $4.1 billion in projects have gone to only two counties— Charleston and Horry.
The Bank last month approved an additional $138 million to finish Interstate 526, bringing its total funding up to $558 million.
State Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) says the SC Department of Transportation has estimated that South Carolina needs $20 billion for road and bridge repairs around the state. “It just makes no sense to build more roads when we can’t maintain the road structure that we have already,” Peeler told South Carolina Radio Network.
Adding to the mix is the fact that Charleston County Council has been reluctant to build the interstate. The state Department of Transportation is scheduled to meet with county leaders and infrastructure bank representatives Thursday to discuss taking over the project.
“South Carolina is force-feeding asphalt to Charleston while the rest of the state starves,” Peeler said.
However, fellow legislator Rep. Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston), who is on the Bank’s board, says Charleston gets a disproportionate share because many of those large projects are meant to help the Port of Charleston. “Port infrastructure is all tied directly to the prosperity of our entire state,” he said.
Limehouse added that the Lowcountry’s geography, with its maze of rivers and marshes, means that roadwork in the region costs more than similar projects in other areas. He added that Horry and Charleston counties also matched the funds with local tax dollars.
Upstate counties have not applied through the Bank since the early 2000s. Peeler said his region of the state could not do matches similar to those along the coast.
“You could liquidate the entire value of (Cherokee) County and it wouldn’t be enough to match the infrastructure needs,” he said. “Some counties have that… but it’s a statewide responsibility. And, quite frankly, we’re not living up to that responsibility.”
A recent survey of Charleston County residents found that a large majority (72 percent) of those who responded wanted to see Interstate 526 built.