South Carolina bills cover tolls, highway widening

January 10, 2019

Chuck Robinson


Road revenue in South Carolina is on the rise. However, it is not enough to address the state’s overall transportation funding needs.

A 2017 state law increased the then-16.75-cent fuel tax rate. Specifically, the tax rate will increase by 2-cent increments over six years to benefit the state’s roads and bridges.

When fully implemented, the additional 12 cents in tax revenue is estimated to raise $630 million per year.

Officials said at the time of the bill’s passage that something needed to be done to help the state address the estimated $1 billion annually the state Department of Transportation says is necessary to cover infrastructure needs.

In an effort to further reduce the transportation funding gap, a bill introduced for the 2019 regular session would authorize putting toll booths on a portion of Interstate 95. The tax revenue would be used to pay for road widening and repairs.

A similar House effort from 2016 failed to advance from committee.

Hopeful the political appetite for tolls has changed at the statehouse, Sens. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, have introduced a bill to require the state DOT to charge highway users to access I-95 where it crosses Lake Marion in either Orangeburg County or Clarendon County.

The I-95 toll bill, S178, is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

OOIDA opposition

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the legislative effort. The truckers group says the toll location would effectively prevent diversion because going around the lake would be “impractical.”

“The proposed toll collection location is clearly intended to target through traffic, which will undoubtedly have a disproportionate impact on commercial trucks,” said OOIDA Manager of Government Affairs Mike Matousek. “This is simply wrong.”

Highway widening

A separate effort targets money from the recently increased fuel tax. Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, has introduced a bill that would divert a portion of tax revenue intended for maintenance work to instead be used for widening interstates.

Most of South Carolina’s more than 850 miles of interstate are two lanes in each direction.

S5 would prohibit the use of funds for new interstate projects.

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

Coastal county fuel tax

One more South Carolina bill in the Senate Finance Committee would allow voters in coastal counties to decide if they want to collect up to a one penny sales tax on fuel purchases.

Sponsored by Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, S172 would authorize the additional revenue collected via gas and diesel purchases to be applied for “beach renourishment” projects. Revenue would stay with the county that approves the sales tax.