In recent speaking opportunities this summer, I have had the pleasure of talking a lot about bridges and roads that are important for more ways than you might imagine, not only locally but all across our state.
As I have noted before on these pages, we legislators in the South Carolina General Assembly this past session greatly enjoyed approving an unprecedented amount of money to fund projects over the next several years to upgrade our state infrastructure. These include highway projects, new bridge construction, broadband development and port expansion.
Small and large cities here along the resort coast, as well as farming communities deep into the rural regions that stretch across the mid-section of our state, will all benefit.
This largesse has been due not only to the population growth of South Carolina over the past decade, but also our booming economy and the big boost of one-time federal stimulus dollars.
Our state plan, which went into effect this summer, calls for approximately $1 billion in new spending on roads that includes the widening of approximately 33 miles of I-95 here in the Lowcountry, and 70 miles of I-26 from Columbia to Charleston. According to SCDOT projections, the new funding should cut the time that was expected to be spent on highway construction from more than 15 years to just seven or eight years.
Additionally, $250 million will be allocated to the 46 county transportation groups for paving local secondary roads.
Funding rural roadways not only has economic benefits, but it will make these roadways much safer. I often drive backroads when I travel to and from Columbia during our legislative sessions, and I can tell you firsthand that potholes and unsafe bridges are quite common. And most of these roads have no shoulders or breakdown lanes.
TRIP, a national safety transportation research nonprofit organization, reported in 2020 that “South Carolina has the highest rate of rural traffic fatalities and significant rural road and bridge deficiencies in the nation.”
Today, good roads have become an economic development concern because farm to market roads are increasingly important for delivering products to our restaurants and supermarkets. Because our state has such productive farmland and timberland, improvement of our roads and bridges is now seen as an important factor for improving our global exports and economy.
Most don’t realize that timber is the agribusiness that generates the highest annual revenue in South Carolina. It is the No. 1 export by volume out of the Port of Charleston. Other SC products like soybeans, corn and peanuts are in demand worldwide. And, with deep water ports in both Charleston and Savannah we are in a prime position to help meet global needs for food and humanitarian assistance.
I’m grateful this new funding will greatly improve our ability to move South Carolina farm products around the world while creating jobs and modernizing our state in smart, sustainable ways.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.