South Carolina plans to spend $200 million on road projects

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COLUMBIA - South Carolina's Transportation Commission adopted plans today to pump $200 million into statewide highway building and resurfacing, new sidewalks, bridge repairs and safety projects as it rushes to commit its share of federal stimulus cash.

The state stands to get as much as $8 billion in tax breaks, unemployment, Medicaid and other cash for programs and projects under the $787 billion national stimulus bill President Obama signed into law Tuesday to stop the economy's slide.

While Gov. Mark Sanford has said he opposes such government bailouts and has yet to decide whether he'll accept the stimulus money, he does not control all of it, including the transportation money in the package.

South Carolina road projects get $463 million, with about $150 million left up to local governments and councils of governments to decide how to spend.

Of the more than $313 million remaining, the state has to commit at least half to projects within 120 days. Decisions on the rest can take a year. The seven-member commission decided to commit to spending $200 million. It also adopted an overall spending template that calls for:

- $150 million for road resurfacing projects in every county;

- $74 million for interstate highway maintenance;

- $56 million for bridge replacement;

- $19 million for safety projects; and

- $14 million to build or improve sidewalks near schools, public buildings and other public places with safety concerns.

The commission did not elaborate on which of the projects would get money first and left some of the final decisions up to the state Department of Transportation's engineers. It planned to post details on its Internet site later today.

For instance, the highest priority bridge is a $37.5 million replacement project for U.S. 378 over the Little Pee Dee River in Horry County, said John Walsh, the agency's chief operations engineer. The commission agreed to use the first round of cash instead to go ahead with dozens of smaller projects.

State Transportation Secretary Buck Limehouse encouraged delaying arguments about other projects for later.

"You know, we have an opportunity if you all can get us through the first 120 days. We've got a noose around our neck and somebody's already tied it to the highest limb on the tree," Limehouse said. "We need you to get us over that first hump so we don't lose money."

That left to the future arguments on big projects, including beginning work on Interstate 73. There are no plans now to put stimulus money into that project connecting Myrtle Beach with Michigan and give faster access to the Grand Strand. Commission Chairman Hugh Atkins said there was not information to immediately pursue money for the project.

Meanwhile, the commission agreed to spend about $16 million for rural transit facilities and vehicles. That the amount the state control of about $41 million in mass transit stimulus cash. The $16 million will be used for transit systems including those in Aiken, Barnwell, Berkeley, Edgefield, Fairfield, Florence, Horry, Oconee, McCormick, Newberry, Pickens, Spartanburg and Sumter counties. It also includes nearly $2 million for technology improvements to improve routes and rider pickup.

South Carolina has about 41,000 miles of roads, with about 18,000 miles considered federal-aid highways. It also has about 1,000 bridges with the same "structurally deficient" designation given a span that collapsed in 2007 in Minneapolis. The state has said it would take 20 years and $150 million yearly to fix or replace them all.


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