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Roads bank to reconsider how it picks SC road projects

FILE PHOTO: Construction on I-20 between Alpine and Spears Creek church road.
FILE PHOTO: Construction on I-20 between Alpine and Spears Creek church road. tdominick@thestate.com

S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank board members agreed Tuesday to reassess how they choose the roads they spend taxpayer money to build.

Bank board members voted unanimously to create a “strategic plan” subcommittee to consider how future projects are selected.

When the bank first was created, “we had a lot of deliberation and intentional thought put in to specific projects around the state,” said new chairman Vince Graham of Charleston, who led his first Infrastructure Bank meeting Tuesday. “I’m not suggesting that we’ve been haphazard in any way. But we have been reacting.”

Critics say politics influences the highway-and-bridge projects the Infrastructure Bank selects. Bank board members say they respond to applications from local governments.

Graham said the board needs to develop criteria. “It’s important to be strategic about what you do going forward.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said the board needs to be careful and not overstep its role, changing the purpose of the Infrastructure Bank.

“If this board starts getting into the workings the General Assembly ought to be doing, that won’t fly,” Leatherman said.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said changing the current process could jeopardize the bank’s ability to attract matching money for projects from local governments.

There is no threshold now for how much money local governments must contribute to projects that the Infrastructure Bank helps finance.

Former S.C. Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor of Columbia said developing a new strategic plan for the Infrastructure Bank also should involve other players, including the state Department of Transportation and, possibly, local governments.

Taylor was selected to chair the committee, which will make recommendations to the bank board.

The committee will “make sure that the (Infrastructure Bank) continues to play an important role in the infrastructure development of the state,” he said.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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