Roads & Bridges
First, I reject the premise that insufficient funding is the primary reason for our roads and bridges being in poor repair (which they undoubtedly are). Total annual spending for our transportation infrastructure in 2009 (my first year in the State Senate) was $1.051 billion; in the 2019 budget, it was $2.4 billion. But despite that dramatic increase in spending, many of our roads and bridges remain in bad condition because spending decisions are made by a politically motivated and legislatively controlled state agency.
Instead of debating ways to take more money from taxpayers, the South Carolina General Assembly should focus on structural reforms to the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SIB), the two state agencies that makes the expenditure decisions. The necessary structural fix here is to have the governor appoint all of the SCDOT commissioners and SIB members in order to establish a clear line of accountability for expenditure decisions. That way the voters can hold an elected official directly accountable for the wise or unwise spending of their money.
Also, any serious plan to address our state’s transportation situation must include devolving control over some roads to local governments. There are approximately 65,800 miles of roads in South Carolina, and 63% of them are controlled by the state; by way of comparison, other state transportation departments (on average) control only 19% of roads.
The fix here is for the state to transfer a significant portion of those road miles to local governments, along with an appropriate share of existing gas-tax revenue. Local governments would have better knowledge than a centralized entity of local road conditions, and their proximity and accountability to the citizens who use the roads in their borders would ensure a more productive expenditure of dollars.
The easy – but incredibly destructive – answer to fixing the condition of our state’s roads and bridges is to raise taxes; it takes far more thought, effort and political backbone to spending existing money more wisely. But the people of South Carolina shouldn’t expect anything less from their elected officials.