Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Roads, bridges could be built under Obama plan

By LEE TANT, T&D Staff Writer Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Local agencies are getting their wish lists in order in case President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus plan becomes a reality. It could pump billions into road, bridge and other infrastructure projects across the nation.

If enacted, Obama’s plan could cause long-discussed local projects such as improving the U.S. Highway 301/Interstate 95 interchange to become a reality sooner rather than later.

“I’m confident the needs in our region are just as severe and as much-needed as any other community in the country,” said Wayne Rogers, executive director of the Lower Savannah Council of Governments.

With the infrastructure needs in the region, he thinks local projects stand “a very good chance” of receiving significant funds from a potential economic stimulus package.

He does caution, “We may not get everything we ask for.”

Obama told the Associated Press that “shovel-ready” projects would get first priority under his plan because they would instantly create jobs. No dollar amount has been assigned to the plan at this time.

Rogers said his office is putting together a list of “ready-to-go” projects in the region for the federal government to consider funding under Obama’s plan. “Ready-to-go” projects are projects that have cleared regulatory hurdles but are awaiting funding.

Projects in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties include:

n An interchange on Interstate 26 at the Calhoun County Industrial Park.

n Interchange improvements at U.S. 301/Interstate 95 in Orangeburg, which are estimated to cost $60 million. Jafza-South Carolina has said the improvements are needed for its planned $600 million logistics/industrial park, which could create more 3,700 direct jobs over the next 12 years.

n Widening U.S. Highway 78 in Orangeburg and Bamberg counties, which has an estimated $64 million price tag.

n Making the I-95/I-26 interchange more functional by creating a full cloverleaf-shaped exit ramp, making wastewater improvements and other changes at an estimated cost of $150 million.

n Adding $6 million in water lines to areas adjacent to I-26 and I-95.

n Adding a rail spur for the Orangeburg County Industrial Park.

Rogers believes the construction could be a catalyst for short- and long-term economic growth.

“We’re not talking about frivolous things. This has the potential for future growth. ... It will create more jobs for communities in the area,” he said.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C, will focus on using any stimulus money for infrastructure projects along the I-95 corridor, according to spokesperson Hope Derrick. In addition, Clyburn wants to move forward with the next phases of existing projects.

“It is too early to talk about specific projects that will be included in the bill,” Derrick said via e-mail.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has two local items listed on its tentative economic stimulus “ready-to-go” project list. Projects on the list are ready to begin construction within 180 days.

The final list will be have to be approved in January, SCDOT spokesman Pete Poore said.

One item is the $17.5 million bridge replacement on U.S. Highway 78 at the Edisto River in Orangeburg and Bamberg counties.

Another local SCDOT project would replace four bridges in Calhoun and Richland counties over the Congaree River and swamps along U.S. Highway 601. That project will cost an estimated $41.5 million.

Statewide, SCDOT has more than $800 million in “ready-to-go” projects on its list.

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, thinks Obama’s plan would “put people to work” and jump-start the economy.

However, Gov. Mark Sanford is opposed to another economic stimulus plan.

“Every penny of it would be borrowed. ... We don’t think it’s fair to pass along debts to future generations,” Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said.

n T&D Staff Writer Lee Tant can be reached by e-mail at ltant@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-534-1060. Discuss this and other stories online at TheTandD.com.

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