McMaster wants to use federal COVID funds to widen Interstate 26

McMaster wants to use federal COVID funds to widen Interstate 26

September 6, 2021 0 By Jon Styf

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is recommending the state use more than $360 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to widen the stretch of Interstate 26 between Charleston and Columbia.

McMaster said using the federal funds in that way, which previously was recommended by the state’s AccelerateSC Committee, was a competitive advantage for South Carolina businesses through improvements in infrastructure that will make shipping and travel swifter and safer.

“This one-time investment, this transformative investment, will allow the [South Carolina Department of Transportation] to accelerate that widening by six years,” McMaster said.

The funds are part of $2.4 billion coming to South Carolina in federal ARPA pandemic recovery funds that will be paired with $525 million from the Savannah River Site lawsuit settlement with the federal government.

The ARPA funds cannot be used directly for road work, but one allowable use for distributing funds is to make up for lost revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state estimates it lost $453 million in revenue and $360 million of that was earmarked for the I-26 project.

“We must seize this moment to set our state on a strong course for generations of prosperity and success,” McMaster said. “This is an opportunity with these funds at this time in our history that we cannot afford to squander. We must invest these funds wisely and transparently and have transformative investments.”

McMaster will take the AccelerateSC recommendations for spending federal money, including the I-26 work, and present them to the South Carolina Legislature for approval. ARPA funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024, with the exception of some infrastructure work such as road improvement, which must be assigned by the end of 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

“This section of I-26 was built nearly 60 years ago,” South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said. “… In that time, we’ve had an increase of 30% in traffic all across the state, including right here. We’re the 10th-fastest growing state in the nation, so with that comes a lot more travel, a lot more traffic and, with that, congestion when the infrastructure does not keep up with that.”

Hall said the I-26 stretch between Charleston and Columbia is known for frequent delays, congestion and accidents as 22 million vehicles use it each year, including five million trucks. She said the connection between mid-South Carolina and the port in Charleston is a high priority for the state.

Hall estimated the first phase of the I-26 widening project will begin in 2022, and the following phases, taking on 15-mile stretches from each end of the project, will happen in 2023.

“Instead of starting the project within the next 10 years, we are estimating being able to complete the project within the next 10 years,” Hall said.

A large focus of prioritizing the project is the state’s manufacturing and shipping industry, which relies on that stretch of road. That includes the products and employees that work in the industry.

“Strong and reliable infrastructure that helps move products efficiently and give our hardworking manufacturers the tools that we need to succeed is critical,” South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance Board Chair April Allen said.

This article was originally posted on McMaster wants to use federal COVID funds to widen Interstate 26