S.C. Republicans are criticizing U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, for a $21.5 million list of road-spending projects the longtime congressman is pushing to get approved.
The S.C. Department of Transportation has about $23.5 million in federal money once earmarked for road projects in the congressional district Clyburn represents.
Those projects never got off the ground or were completed, freeing up the money for new uses. To qualify, the new project must be within 50 miles of the original project and have a local match of 20 percent of the project budget.
Clyburn, who secured most of that money, sent a letter to S.C. Transportation Department chief Christy Hall in July asking that the money be spent on other projects in his district:
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▪ $11.5 million for improvements along Sumter’s Manning Avenue and North Main Street corridor
▪ $6.5 million in Orangeburg County for Russell Street and Magnolia Street improvements
▪ $3 million in Columbia for the University of South Carolina’s South Main Street project
▪ $500,000 in Orangeburg for the Zan Street project
But S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore, said Clyburn’s selection of projects showed “zero consideration” for the Transportation Department’s priorities, which Moore said would increase the quality and safety of roads.
“Transportation dollars should be spent according to South Carolina's priorities, not Jim Clyburn’s priorities,” Moore said.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s office agreed, calling Clyburn’s proposal a “perfect example of everything wrong with our roads system and why it so desperately needs reform. The wishes of politicians are more important than the safety of our citizens,” said Haley’s spokeswoman Chaney Adams. “Under no circumstances should this money be spent on any projects other than those prioritized by the Department of Transportation. Period."
One of the projects Clyburn requested – USC’s South Main Street project – appeared on a state priority list for upgrades.
In an email to The State, Clyburn said the law requires the money to go projects “in the same geographic area that the funds were originally designated.” The proposal, he added, “reflects the need and requests of these communities.”
Clyburn took input from local leaders in making the request, his office said.
The deadline to submit requests to use the money for other projects is September 12. The Transportation Department Commission will discuss the proposal at its Thursday meeting but a decision could come later.
S.C. Department of Transportation Chairman Mike Wooten said Clyburn’s request is not unusual.
Wooten helped secure federal earmarks for Interstate 73 to Myrtle Beach – a project not on the state’s priority list and one that has received federal earmarks as a large part of its funding.
When communities take the initiative to go to Washington and get money – as Clyburn did for his district – the money should be spent on the purpose that Congress approved, Wooten said.