Editorial: Leaders must focuson SC infrastructure

When lawmakers return in January, they must work to overhaul the system by which transportation dollars are doled out so that repairs are the priority.

If there is a silver lining to the devastating flooding that hit South Carolina this month, it is that it may reignite the debate on repairing our infrastructure.

State lawmakers unsuccessfully grappled with the issue last legislative session, stunned by the multi-billion-dollar price tag and unable to reach a decision on whether to raise the gas tax to pay for the work.

We encourage our legislative representatives to not give up. The work is too important.

While it is not yet known if upgraded roads, bridges and dams could have better handled the torrential downpour that pummeled our state, it highlights this long-standing problem, which regularly causes casualties. These deaths are not front-page news, instead serving as a regretful backdrop to our state's misguided priorities.

It is time for lawmakers to commit more dollars to upgrading infrastructure.

But any increase in funding must be paired with two reforms:

  • Giving priority to improving existing infrastructure, not building more of it. In the last few decades, the state has spent far too much on new projects in areas connected with powerful politicians. Meanwhile, areas with flood-prone roads, old dams and crumbling bridges have been ignored. This must come to an end.
  • Overhauling the process by which transportation dollars are doled out. Hard data should be used to determine which stretches of roads and dams are most in need of repair. Dollars must go to these projects first. The current process puts politics ahead of the public's safety.
  • We're pleased to see that The Coastal Conservation League has launched a petition drive to make transportation reform a top issue for 2016. The group is urging lawmakers to pass a bill that puts repairs before new construction, gives all of the state's communities equal representation on the state's transportation bodies and commits dollars based on data, not politics.

    This represents a solid plan that lawmakers should support.

    Too much is riding on this to do otherwise.