Traffic backs up south of Columbia as motorists wait to merge into the overburdened Interstate 26 intersection near Gaston. (File photo/James T. Hammond)
By Chuck Crumbo
Published July 23, 2012
The new federal highway bill passed by Congress earlier this month allocates $1.2 billion over the next two years to South Carolina for an assortment of projects — including widening a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 26.
Overall, the bill called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, offers state transportation planners more certainty about how much money is coming down from Washington, D.C. For the past year, states have had to deal with stopgap funding measures offered by congressional resolutions.
“Funding levels are going to remain fairly consistent with what we’ve seen in recent history,” Walsh said. “While it’s not an improvement in funding levels, it certainly isn’t going to result in some of the cutbacks that were also being discussed.”
About 60% of the federal money for 2013, about $368 million, is geared toward spending on U.S. highways and interstates in South Carolina, Walsh said.
Other allocations for the year include: $169 million for state and local surface transportation projects; $40 million for highway safety; $15.5 million for transportation alternatives; $11 million to reduce congestion and improve air quality; and $2.7 million for metropolitan planning.
A portion of the money will fund the construction payouts for the I-26 widening project, a top priority of the state’s business community.
Improving I-26 between Columbia and Charleston is one of the most pressing logistics issues facing the state, business leaders said.
I-26 is the “lifeblood of business in South Carolina,” said S.C. Chamber of Commerce President Otis Rawl.
The route connects manufacturers in the Upstate to one of the nation’s busiest seaports at Charleston.
The state transportation department plans to widen the interstate from mile marker 115 in Lexington County, east of the I-26 and I-77 interchange, to mile marker 125 at the Sandy Run exit in Calhoun County.
The project includes replacement of the westbound bridge over the CSX Railroad and a bridge jacking at the overpass of Old Wire Road. The widening would accommodate three lanes in each direction by widening to the median.
Another 11 miles of I-26, to mile marker 136, will be resurfaced as part of the project.
The project is scheduled to move forward in a design-build contract later this year, according to the transportation department.
The new bill also sets the state for a longer-term highway measure that focuses more on establishing performance measures for funding, Walsh said.
“There is an opportunity here with this bill for some streamlining and consolidations,” he said.
The law trims the number of federal programs by two-thirds, from about 90 to less than 30, to focus resources on key national goals and remove duplicative programs, according to a summary on the U.S. Senate website. The bill also eliminates earmarks.
MAP-21 will provide the majority of federal-aid highway funds through the following core programs:
National Highway Performance — Consolidates existing programs covering interstate maintenance, federal highways and highway bridges. The program eliminates barriers between existing programs that limit states’ flexibility to address the most vital needs for highways and bridges and holds states accountable for improving outcomes and using tax dollars efficiently.
Transportation Mobility — Replaces the current Surface Transportation Program, but retains the same structure, goals and flexibility to allow states and metropolitan areas to invest in the projects that fit their unique needs and priorities. It also gives a broad eligibility of surface transportation projects that can be constructed.
National Freight Network — Provides funds to the states by formula for projects to improve regional and national freight movements on highways, including freight intermodal connectors.
Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality — Provides funds to states for transportation projects designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.
Highway Safety Improvement — Requires states to develop and implement a safety plan that identifies highway safety programs and a strategy to address them.
Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation — Provides loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit to surface transportation projects at favorable terms. The program will leverage private and other non-federal investment in transportation improvements.