Rural interstates need priority

Rural interstates need priority

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South Carolina’s rural interstates are the lifeblood of our economy now and will be far into the future.

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Interstates 26, 20, 77 and 85 give us rapid, reliable interconnectivity both north-south and east-west and their connection to our port are what gives us our unique competitive advantage over our neighboring states.

And yet here we are in 2019, and for these major-league trade, consumer and tourism arteries not to be a minimum of three lanes from beginning to end is a travesty.

The state has the money to widen and modernize now. More than $650 million is sitting at the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank available for roadwork to modernize our transportation lifelines, sustain our population growth and preserve our economic future.

The justification for the modernization is apparent and available in needed safety to avoid tractor-trailer platooning, for economic development and lessening traffic congestion.

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The only thing needed to put that money to work for all the citizens of South Carolina is executive leadership and political will from Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster has shown he’s not shy about flexing his political muscles over transportation issues.

Last year, just months after the STIB voted not to fund the controversial 526 extension project in Charleston – a decision based on, board officials said, Charleston County’s repeated inability to produce a reliable and responsible plan for the $725 million road to Kiawah – McMaster single-handedly revived the project and compelled his appointees to the board into switching their votes.

And more recently, this: With McMaster’s support, the Carolina Panthers (boasting the NFL’s wealthiest owner) are getting a new interstate exit off I-77 that, like the 526 extension, was not on any Department of Transportation priority list.

In both cases politics bypassed transportation priorities. Over the needs of the people of South Carolina. Over the state’s economic future.

It’s time for McMaster to put the same political muscle to statewide good and deal with South Carolina’s rural interstate system. If the governor can muscle the better part of a billion dollars for a seven-mile stretch in Charleston, surely he can compel the State Infrastructure Bank to spend the $650 million on-hand for the rural interstates that carry our trade, deliver our tourists and connect us not just to the world but, more importantly, to each other and our jobs.

Why let those arteries crumble or, worse, clog with the regularity we see happening? Why not put $650 million in existing funds to the best use possible for the most people possible?

It’s time for the person elected by the people of South Carolina to use his power for the people of South Carolina, not just the millionaires in Kiawah or a billionaire in Rock Hill.

It’s time, in short, to lead our state down a road of economic prosperity that carries everyone with it and create a legacy that, if pursued with the same vigor displayed for other projects, can create something no other transportation project can claim or eclipse: a genuine legacy for the people of South Carolina for decades to come.

Joe E. Taylor Jr. served as the S.C. secretary of commerce from February 2005-January 2011 and as a board member of the State Transportation Infrastructure bank from December 2012-February 2019.

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