State Senators Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) and Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) want to consolidate the state’s transportation agencies: the State Infrastructure Bank and the Department of Transportation.
In a bipartisan move, the lawmakers introduced S.209, as a first step toward meeting the state’s ever-growing infrastructure needs.
“It’s particularly important for me because the result of the way its been run so far is that the rural areas and the smaller counties have not benefitted from the State Infrastructure Bank,” says Sheheen. “The problem is that it is controlled by a few people and those few people tend to come from a few big communities in the state, which means that you see hundreds of millions of dollars flow into Charleston and Horry County and maybe one or two others which certainly deserve to have their projects looked at, but the rest of the state is really has not received any benefit.”
Peeler says decisions are made at the SCDOT in the same way, and their bill would restructure the oversight of the agency—now led by a region-based commission and a cabinet-level agency director.
Peeler, the Senate Majority Leader, says “Governance is the first issue here, to decide whether we are going to put it under the governor’s office totally or continue with the commission or with some kind of hybrid, but obviously the way we are doing it now is not working.”
He also says restructuring will also prevent the SCDOT from borrowing for construction projects above and beyond its bonding capacity.
“The SIB has been force feeding asphalt to the coast, while the Upstate and many rural areas starve,” Peeler said. “It just doesn’t make sense to have one state agency building expensive new roads when we can’t even keep up with our current maintenance needs.”
Sheheen says, “The SIB is a stand-alone agency which has tremendous powers to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to projects related to highway funding and our goal is to have a more accountable system.”
A recent study released by SCDOT anticipates a $29.3 billion shortfall over the next 20 years to bring the state’s roads to a service level of “C.”
Neither senator is embracing the idea of raising the state’s gas tax, among the lowest rates in the nation. Instead, they are considering a bill that would set aside a part of the state’s surplus toward road improvements and another that would dedicate the $300 car sales tax to the SCDOT instead of the State General Fund.
“Yes, we need money for roads and infrastructure. No, we don’t need a gas tax increase,” says Peeler.