CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A new form of funding is being considered for South Carolina road projects. The State Department of Transportation just completed a study on the possibility of tolling I-95.
The study was conducted based on current federal tolling rules and determined that it would be feasible to fund the widening of I-95 through the tolling of four strategically located bridge replacement projects. Replacing those bridges could cost taxpayers $500 million.
Those bridges include the Great Pee Dee River Bridges at mile marker 174, Lake Marion Bridges at mile marker 100, the bridge over SC-64 at mile marker 57 and the bridges over County Road 241 and SCL Railroad.
According to the study, the tolls would cover that cost and have a $73 million annual surplus that would go to repairing and widening the interstate.
Much of I-95 remains the same four lanes as when it was initially constructed nearly 50 years ago. With an estimated 57,200 vehicles utilizing the interstate each day, that number is expected to climb to 77,400 a day by 2040.
State Senator Sandy Senn says she thinks this could be an excellent opportunity given that much of the traffic on 95 is out of state.
“A lot of these are businesses, not just people traveling up and down—sometimes not even stopping in South Carolina for as much as gas or a soda. This is another way, sort of like we do with tourists and accommodation taxes, a way for us to have folks from out of state who are enjoying the privileged of being in our state to help pay for our infrastructure.”
A 2016 traffic count shows 43,100 vehicles cross the Great Pee Dee River Bridges every year. The cost to replace those bridges would cost $220M. A toll of $3 would generate an estimated $27 million annually.
Approximately 35,600 vehicles cross the Lake Marion Bridges each year. It would cost $210 to replace those bridges. A $3 toll would generate an estimated $20 million annually.
40,600 vehicles crossed the bridge over SC-64 that year. The cost to replace would be $30 million, so a $1 toll would generate an estimated $12 million annually.
Finally, 57,200 vehicles crossed the bridges over County Road 241 and SCL Railroad in 2016. The cost to replace the bridges would be $40 million. A $1 toll could generate $14 million annually.
The report estimates 35 years of toll collections would be needed to fully fund, via pay-as-you-go approach, the widening of all 199 miles of I-95 through South Carolina. It could be accelerated by the recently announced Rural Interstate Widening Program or the issuance of additional bonds to accelerate portions of the necessary infrastructure.
Its likely many people who use 95 regularly will oppose the proposal. Sen. Senn said they are considering a plan for locals who frequently travel the corridor.
In a statement to Count on 2, SCDOT’s Secretary of Transportation, Christy Hall said: “SCDOT completed the I-95 Toll Feasibility Study in response to a request by the General Assembly which requested that the Department determine if it is financially feasible to institute tolls along I-95 in order to fund the widening of the 199-mile-long I-95 corridor through the state. This initial study has concluded that it is financially feasible to institute tolls at four bridge locations and in turn, utilize those toll revenues to fund the widening of the entire corridor in phases.”
She went on to say, “The study indicates that additional review is needed regarding the impacts tolls would have on the citizens, businesses and economic development efforts of South Carolina and the overall policy issue of tolling existing interstates need to be debated.“
SCDOT will still need to review the impact on residents, businesses and economic development efforts in the state. The overall policy will also have to be debated.