Civil engineers call for optimism, more funding to rebuild state's infrastructure

We Stand For Progress Reports Feb. 19, 2018, 12:21pm

ASCE estimated that driving on roads in need of repair in South Carolina costs each driver $502 per year.
ASCE estimated that driving on roads in need of repair in South Carolina costs each driver $502 per year.

In the wake of a report card on the country's infrastructure and President Donald Trump's announcement of his administration's planned investment, one leading South Carolina civil engineer is responding with some optimism, albeit heavily tempered.

The state has a lot of work to carry out -- and needs to spend considerable sums -- on its infrastructure and delaying investment only escalates the cost, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) concluded about South Carolina in its state-by-state report card.

This state of the states was published ahead of Trump's announcement that the federal government will free up $200 billion for infrastructure, a sum his administration believes can be leveraged to attract state and private investment of over $1 trillion.

There are skeptics, including J. Rhett Reidenbach, president and chief executive of the Reveer Group, a Charleston-based civil engineering firm.

"President Trump’s initial plan is a good starting point for a conversation on infrastructure improvements, but the reality is $200 billion of federal money is not enough," Reidenbach told the Palmetto Business Daily. "$200 billion will be spread very thin when stretched across the entire country; it is simply not enough money to make the deal attractive for local and state governments."

In its report, ASCE estimated that driving on roads in need of repair in South Carolina costs each driver $502 per year, and 16 percent of the state's 6,250 miles of public roads are in poor condition.

Further, 10.3 percent of bridges are rated structurally deficient and 178 dams are considered to be of "high hazard" potential.

Drinking water needs in the state will cost an estimated $1.8 billion to bring up to standard, and there is a $90 million in capital expenditure needed for schools, ASCE concluded.

"Success in a 21st-century economy requires serious, sustained leadership on infrastructure investment at all levels of government," ASCE argued, though it should be noted its members benefit from increased infrastructure spend.

Reidenbach said South Carolina has moved somewhat to tackle its infrastructure problems, including passing a gasoline tax last year. This will increase funding for state roads and bridges by around $600 million a year once fully phased in.

"In the short term, the increase will help address our state’s infrastructure problems, but the reality of our aging infrastructure system requires a more innovative approach to transportation if we want to see our state’s report card improve," Reidenbach said. "Fuel-powered motor vehicles will not always be our No. 1 source of transportation. ... Infrastructure investment must support innovative ideas like driverless technology, alternative fuel, and transit-focused facilities and development, to name a few. It is simply not enough to spend more money on widening our existing roads and bridges."

On Trump’s plan, Reidenbach said the idea of incentivizing local and private investors to act is a good idea at its core. But, he added, Charleston County has already boosted its transportation funding by approving a local option sales tax.

"Shifting infrastructure investment from governments to the private sector could certainly help; however, even as public-private partnerships are becoming more popular, we are limited in South Carolina," Reidenbach said. "Lawmakers would have to create new legislation that would allow the state and municipalities to use public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects, and political consensus would have to follow for it to be a real option for South Carolina."

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