A key transportation funding board delayed a vote Tuesday on $550 million worth of funding for several interstate projects, saying they need more time to look over the proposal. The list is topped off by plans to revamp the intersection of Interstate 85 and I-385 in Greenville.
The South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board decided Tuesday to delay a vote on a package of seven projects that would be funded through new bonds that state lawmakers approved earlier this year. The Infrastructure Bank is an independent state agency that uses its financial leverage to fund larger highway and bridge projects. A majority of the board members said they needed more time to consider the proposal.The board had been expected to approve the package this week (South Carolina’s Transportation Commission advanced it to them in July), but board member Max Metcalf said he wanted more time to make sure the top priorities were truly being funded.
But the move clearly frustrated Transportation Commission chairman Johnny Edwards, who says the Infrastructure Bank board has already had more than a month to examine the projects. “I see no reason for delaying this,” he told several reporters after the meeting. “We need to get asphalt on the ground and we need to get started. The longer we drag it out, the more expensive it’s going to be.”
Edwards represents the Transportation Commission on the board. He insists the projects were chosen based on the Department of Transportation’s (SCDOT) priority ranking system in order to keep politics out of the process.
The I-85 and I-385 intersection is easily the most expensive on the list (at an estimated cost of $240 million), but is only considered the second-highest priority interchange. SCDOT Chief Engineer Ron Patton said the intersection of Interstate 26 and I-20 in Columbia is actually considered the top-priority project, but was too expensive to include in the final proposal. Some members of the board wondered aloud if they would be able to set aside some funding for the interchange known locally as “Malfunction Junction.”
Also included on the priority list were widening nearly five miles of I-26 in Lexington/Richland counties, widening 25 miles of I-85 in Greenville/Spartanburg counties, widening 19 miles of I-526 in Charleston County, ten miles of I-20 in Lexington County, 2.5 miles of I-77 in Richland County, and an additional 28 miles of widening in of I-85 in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), who is also on the board, questioned if the Upstate was being neglected by transportation officials. “If you go back and look over a 10-year period… I think the Midlands and the coast have gotten the majority of the interstate money,” he said after the meeting. “We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to get some relief to the Upstate.”
Patton responded that the I-85/385 interchange was included on the list, along with two other widening projects located along Interstate 85.
Edwards says a vote needs to happen soon because the package must also be approved by the South Carolina Joint Bond Review Committee (which handles all bonds in the state). The JBRC has a meeting scheduled for later this month.
“A week or two delay will turn into a month or two,” he said, adding that lengthy delays would likely increase the projects’ overall cost. “Every day the fuel price goes up. With the fuel price goes the price of asphalt.”