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Put roads bank under S.C. roads agency, audit says

Coastal Conservation League’s Dana Beach and Nancy Cave lie down in the middle of Highway 51 and time how long it takes a car to disturb them. The rural Florence County road will be turned into a five-lane highway with the state contributing $340 million to Florence projects.
Coastal Conservation League’s Dana Beach and Nancy Cave lie down in the middle of Highway 51 and time how long it takes a car to disturb them. The rural Florence County road will be turned into a five-lane highway with the state contributing $340 million to Florence projects. mwalsh@thestate.com

The controversial S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank should be merged into the state’s Transportation Department, according to an audit released Thursday.

“During our review, we found no function performed by (the Infrastructure Bank) that could not also be performed by discontinuing” the Infrastructure Bank and transferring its money to the Transportation Department, according to the S.C. Legislative Audit Council report.

The report said abolishing the bank and putting its capacities under the Transportation Department would:

▪  Enable better coordination of road and bridge projects

▪  Put accountability for those projects in one state agency

▪  Put transportation policy under the executive branch of government, headed by the governor

The General Assembly could abolish the Infrastructure Bank, putting all state-level transportation projects under the Transportation Department, the report said. Lawmakers also could make the Infrastructure Bank a part of the Transportation Department while keeping its board in an advisory capacity.

The Infrastructure Bank, which issues bonds to pay for roads, was created to help pay for Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge. It is charged with helping local governments pay for projects that cost more than $100 million.

Infrastructure Bank board chairman Vince Graham told legislators Thursday the bank should continue as a separate agency because of its ability to borrow, which exceeds that of the Transportation Department.

Graham said there is no analysis in the report of how the bank’s borrowing abilities “could be done legally, financially or practically” transferred to the Transportation Department.

S.C. Transportation Department chief Christy Hall said her agency agrees the two agencies’ relationship should be re-evaluated by lawmakers. “A closer and more effective working relationship ... has the potential to ensure that all available transportation funds are dedicated in a cohesive and collaborative manner for our citizens.”

Critics say politics have influenced decisions by the Infrastructure Bank. The bank has spent more than $1 billion in both Charleston and Horry counties, concentrating its spending in those counties, the audit found.

Bank opponents, including the anti-new-roads Coastal Conservation League, have said the bank should be abolished before more money is budgeted for road repairs.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Audit findings

The S.C. Legislative Audit Council investigated the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank and found the state agency:

▪  Does not publicly communicate when it has money available for financial assistance

▪  Has awarded money to projects without applications

▪  Has no formal policies for awarding financial assistance

▪  Requires that funded projects exceed $100 million but will accept applications that reach $100 million by combining multiple projects

▪  Does not require that approved projects come from the S.C. Department of Transportation’s priority list

▪  Does not require applicants to demonstrate whether a project’s benefits would exceed its costs

SOURCE: S.C. Legislative Audit Council

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