Editorial: Road repair debate needs deeper focus

  • Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014 12:01 a.m.

Upgrades along I-20 that are set to begin in April are long overdue, but the project also puts another spotlight on the need to address infrastructure across the state.

Nearly $1.7 million was approved for I-20 repairs between mile markers 13 and 22, which is certainly warranted, but that funding should be part of a broader scope of improvements. As S.C. Reps. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, told the Aiken Standard, constituents have offered numerous complaints about the conditions of that stretch of I-20 in Aiken County. Many vehicles, they said, have suffered damage to their windshields, undercarriages and tires while driving on I-20. This is a problem that exists across the state, and there are other upgrades that undoubtedly need to be considered and funded by the state legislature and the S.C. Department of Transportation in the future.

The roads in South Carolina, especially those that make up our interstate system, are crumbling. Thankfully, it looks like the state legislature may soon begin looking at details about how to improve our roadways, especially since the second half of the legislatureís two-year session wraps up in June.

One of the hang-ups appears to be the debate surrounding the stateís gas tax Ė a user fee thatís intended to fund transportation projects. Some legislators donít seem to be interested in even bringing up the idea of road repairs merely because it could lead to discussion of a gas tax increase. This is a misguided and myopic approach.

Itís clear the state needs to address ongoing challenges with our roadways, particularly since itís a core function of government.

The debate does carry a caveat as S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has pledged to veto any bill that includes a gas tax increase. The looming threat of a veto does confine the debate, but the debate still needs to take place.

A poll conducted in 2013 by Winthrop University shows that a slim majority of South Carolinians would support a gas tax increase, likely because they recognize the importance of having adequate roadways. And the stateís transportation department has already stated that South Carolina needs to raise an additional $29 billion over the next two decades to properly maintain our roadways.

Itís evident that such a price canít be covered from the stateís general fund. One way to meet those needs is increasing the gas tax, but thatís not a panacea. A broader debate needs to occur to ensure road funding is evenly and adequately distributed. But lawmakers are doing the state a disservice by not being able to find a clear framework for fixing our long-term infrastructure needs.

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