Senate approves $4 billion road-repair plan

The S.C. Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a $4 billion road-repair plan that includes fixing Malfunction Junction.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, expects the Senate proposal, which also includes replacing nearly 400 bridges, to be approved by the S.C. House.

“The House has continually supported — by a wide majority of votes — more money for road funding,” said Simrill, assistant majority leader of the Republican-controlled House.

Legislators plan to pair the Senate’s funding proposal with a separate plan to restructure the oversight boards at the state’s two road agencies.

Some legislators have argued the governor should have more control of the legislatively controlled commission that oversees the S.C. Department of Transportation. That would remove politics from road projects, critics say.

Critics also say legislators should not control the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which finances road-repair projects by issuing debt.

Senate leader Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, praised the proposal.

“This is a good first step but not a complete fix,” he said. “We’ll need to come back in subsequent years to provide a recurring and sustainable fix.

“It is absolutely vital that we have a dedicated source of dollars going toward infrastructure projects,” he added, referring indirectly to failed efforts to increase the state’s gas taxes to help pay for road repairs.

Republican state Sens. Lee Bright, Kevin Bryant, Tom Corbin and Shane Martin, who oppose borrowing or increasing taxes, voted against the Senate proposal.

The best chance for the road-repair proposal to become law is to combine it with a fix for the boards that oversee the roads agencies, said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley. That is because some legislators only favor changing the structure of the roads agencies while others only favor more money for road repairs.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has pushed for more control of the roads agencies.

“We need to reform the (Transportation Department) so that we get rid of the political horse trading and instead have a state plan that focuses on needs like traffic, safety and economic development,” said Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams. “Until that happens, we’re wasting taxpayer dollars."

Grooms said he is more confident every day that a road-repair proposal will pass, including restructuring and more money. “Going home with nothing is not acceptable.”

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope