South Carolina’s Transportation Commission is seeking federal money to revive a pair of stalled highway projects.
Last week, the commission unanimously voted to seek federal TIGER grant funds for two large projects: one to create an expressway that connects the Columbia Metropolitan Airport with a major interstate, and another to help develop proposed Interstate 73 in Horry County.
Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funds first began as part of the federal “stimulus” in 2009. They are specifically targeted for large capital projects in transportation. The grants are extremely competitive and South Carolina has not been awarded TIGER funds since 2011. The deadline for the state to apply is April 28.
During an April 17 meeting, commissioners voted to seek $60.8 million in TIGER funds for Phase II of the John Hardee Expressway. The expressway’s future has been uncertain for more than a decade. A four-lane highway opened at the Columbia airport in 2004, but did not extend all the way to Interstate 26, as was originally intended. As a result, only half of the expressway was complete for the next six years.
“The airport connector would open up a whole new corridor for economic development in our region,” said John Hardee, who represents the Midlands region on the commission (and is the road’s namesake). “It’s been a very sore area of frustration for me. I don’t think you should start a job and quit halfway through.”
The proposal calls for a local match of roughly $15 million, Hardee said. He said officials would work with the State Infrastructure Bank and local governments in the Central Midlands region to come up with the funds. SCDOT would not be required to make up the difference, he said.
“It’s going to be wherever we can find the money. The right-of-way is bought, the plans are complete, the engineering has been done. It’s just a matter of updating some documents and getting on with completing the job.”
The airport connector had initially been included in a $344 million bond package that the Transportation Commission approved in 2011. However, financial concerns led commissioners to scuttle the plan later that year.
Meanwhile, the commission voted to seek $30 million to expand S.C. 22 near Conway, which Mike Wooten (who represents Horry County on the commission) said is meant as prep work in case Interstate 73 is completed. Highway 22, which currently acts as a bypass around Conway and Myrtle Beach, would then become the final 24 miles of I-73.
Wooten said the money would bring the current Grand Strand bypass up to federal interstate standards, which require a wider road shoulder.
“Sooner or later it’s got to be done anyway,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We thought, that since it was pretty much a shovel-ready project, that it would be a good candidate for this round of TIGER grants.”
SCDOT was already seeking $27 million in TIGER funds for rehabilitating Interstate 20 in Lee County. The total combined value of the projects would be $117 million, although agency officials warned the Federal Highway Administration will have the last say in how much is awarded.