In print this week, City Paper reporter Paul Bowers looks at a new poll that shows widespread support for the proposed I-526 extension project—the first publicly-available government-sponsored scientific poll to show such support. Though you'll hear from many of the detractors speaking against the plan, the poll shows upwards of 70% of those surveyed support the completion of the estimated half-billion-dollar project, which secured the final $138 million in funding needed to complete the project in mid-August.
Well, the estimated $556 million price tag on the project doesn't sit too well with State Senator Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney), the leading Republican in the state Senate. Peeler argues in a column circulating SC Opinion pages this week that the plan is "wildly unpopular locally" and that the chunk of state funding going toward projects like I-526 and the ongoing I-73 project linking the Grand Strand to the north would be better spent in other parts of the state, citing SCDOT's estimate that for $20 billion, the state could bring its roads up to "adequate" safety levels. The Upstate senator particularly laments the condition of roads in rural areas of the state, saying the State Infrastructure Bank, which holds the purse strings to major highway projects, is "force-feeding asphalt to Charleston, while the rest of South Carolina is on a starvation diet."
From Peeler's op-ed:
When a conservative think tank and the environmentalists team up to criticize the same state agency, they’re probably on to something.
Let’s think about that for a second: We need $20 billion to make our existing roads safe, and the Infrastructure Bank is busy spending another $4 billion on new roads in the backyards of politically connected legislators and the tourism lobby. It's like a farmer borrowing money to buy a new Corvette when the wheels of his tractor are falling off.
That latest Charleston boondoggle — which, it’s worth remembering, was built with promised money above and beyond what we’re already authorized to borrow — has never even been ranked by the state Transportation Department as a funding priority. It’s only ranked 15th on a list of Charleston priorities.
Why do we even have a separate board from the Transportation Department buying bells and whistles for our road system?
Of course, it’s not like the Transportation Department is any better. What’s its top priority? An interchange for an interstate that hasn’t even been built, and may never wind up being built. I-73, which is supposed to go from Detroit to Myrtle Beach, will cost us more than $1 billion just to reach the N.C. line.
Now I’m no expert, but the times I’ve been to Myrtle Beach and looked around at the license plates, it didn’t seem to me like folks from Michigan and Ohio are having any trouble getting here.
The seven-member Transportation Department and the seven-member State Infrastructure Bank are driving our state into a ditch. Fourteen people making road-funding decisions. As the old saying goes, “When everybody is in charge, no one is in charge."