Contractors urge state lawmakers to fund roads
Source: Greenville Online
June 3, 2015
COLUMBIA – The right lane of interstates in South Carolina are so deteriorated in places they are dangerous, an official with an Upstate paving company says.
Scott Fant, business development manager for Sloan Construction Co. of Duncan, was among a group of contractors who came to the Statehouse Tuesday to urge lawmakers to address long-term road and bridge funding before the Legislature adjourns on Thursday.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, said South Carolina has lost 30 percent of its jobs in construction since the Great Recession, due in part to the failure of state and federal lawmakers to address transportation funding.
In fact, he said, Columbia has 500 fewer construction jobs than a year ago, placing it in the top 10 cities in the nation for construction job losses.
Fant said his company has downsized from almost 700 workers before the recession to 282 today. He said unless state and federal lawmakers do something to address long-term transportation needs, his company and others will shrink even more.
He said funding inaction has cost drivers in the form of time lost in traffic jams as well as damage from bad roads.
"I'm sure each and every one of you drive up and down the interstates," he told reporters. "The right-hand lane is almost unbearable," he said. "It's dangerous. It really is. That is due to lack of maintenance. The roads were not designed to last forever."
The state House passed a road-funding bill last month but the issue has stalled in the Senate, where conservatives argue the state has sufficient money to address roads because of revenue growth.
The Senate did not bring up a roads bill by late afternoon Tuesday.
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Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican, has blocked the Senate's consideration of a roads bill through a filibuster for four days. He wants the Legislature to use half of a Capital Reserve Fund bill in addition to most of a budget surplus for roads instead of raising any fees or the state's gas tax, last raised in 1987.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday voted unanimously to spend $150 million of about $300 million in surplus money on state secondary road projects, using county transportation committees. Another $70 million of the surplus would be spent for an interchange on I-26 for the new factory Volvo is to build outside Charleston, part of a promised incentives package.
Gov. Nikki Haley has asked that $123 million be provided Volvo through economic development bonds, including the $70 million for interchange work, saying Volvo does not want the money to go through the regular legislative process.
Documents released Tuesday show if the $123 million were to be borrowed, the state would eventually pay $87 million in interest charges. The Ways and Means Committee proposes borrowing only $53 million. The Joint Bond Review Committee meets Wednesday morning to take up the matter.
Fant told The Greenville News while the $150 million seems like a lot of money to individuals, the sum is "chump change" when divided among 46 counties in the state. He said that works out to $3 million per county, although the funds will be distributed according to an existing formula that will give some counties more and some less.
The $3 million does not go as far in road work as many people think, he said.
"I live in Union County," he said. "I've told our county officials, 'What six miles of a road do you want resurfaced?"
And he said officials have waited so long to provide needed funding that many roads need to be rebuilt, not just resurfaced.
"Quit kicking the can down the road," he advised lawmakers.
Turmail urged people to share photos of bad roads, aging bridges and traffic jams using the hashtag #DriveBetterRoads.