AIKEN - A lack of funding has pushed the expansion of Bobby Jones Expressway farther down South Carolina's infrastructure list, but several local legislators say they remain committed to the project.
The $70 million expansion has taken a back seat to coastal Grand Strand road projects, which will likely get the first money handed out by the seven-man Infrastructure Bank Board.
Created this year by the South Carolina Legislature, the group has about $66 million with which to borrow more than $600 million for highway and bridge projects that local communities cannot afford on their own.
However, the Bobby Jones expansion remains on the bank's priority list. The project, which has been pending since 1970, would add a four-lane, limited access road from Augusta's Doug Barnard Parkway, north to Interstate 20 at U.S. Highway 25.
"I am confident that with the help of the (Aiken County) delegation, funding for the project will go through," said Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, noting that more money from the general fund should be used for infrastructure projects.
Money for the trust fund is provided by gasoline taxes and is used to maintain roads.
Citing increased economic opportunities for the state, Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, said Friday he will continue fighting for the expansion.
"Georgia now has a 7 percent sales tax, which should entice those residents to travel across the river," he said.
Mr. Smith said funds for the expansion were available when the state appropriations bill left the House of Representatives.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has built Bobby Jones Expressway from Interstate 20 to within a quarter mile of reaching the Savannah River, completing its commitment for the roadway. The only access to the South Carolina side would be at U.S. Highway 1 near the North Augusta Industrial Park and U.S. 25 near Ascauga Lake Road.
Tractor-trailers will have a straight, less congested route from that end of the county to Interstate 20, which would make it vital to adding new industries to the county, developers say.
"Transportation is a major consideration of companies," said Fred Humes of the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership. "Extending Bobby Jones would tend to open up some manufacturing in that area."