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Panelists: Infrastructure needs a long-term fix

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More than 8,000 people drive in and out of the BMW Manufacturing site daily, approaching it from an interstate built for 1970s and 1980s traffic capacity, according to Max Metcalf, manager of government and community relations for BMW Manufacturing Co. He said issues with Interstate 85 in the Upstate are also a concern for the company’s suppliers and trucking companies.

“We’ve only added one lane to I-85 in my lifetime. We have very antiquated cloverleaf interchanges that need to be changed. Trucks flip, cars wreck … and it backs up on existing lanes of the interstate. We’d like to see that improved. It would help in the moving of people and goods,” Metcalf said during a panel discussion on infrastructure and manufacturing at the 2016 S.C. Manufacturing Conference and Expo. He said forward thinking is needed in finding the best ways to select and fund infrastructure projects.

“Maintaining the infrastructure certainly is a top priority, no doubt about it, but we’re growing steadily, and numerous companies are coming to South Carolina or expanding,” he said. “Additional safety problems will arise if we only talk about the pothole and not the actual capacity of the system, so that’s one thing I hope will come out of the debate in Columbia. “We’ve got to be thinking forward.”

Time isn’t a friend to the infrastructure in the state, according to Michael Johnson, CEO and president of Cox Industries in Orangeburg. He said it won’t be long before businesses will have to make difficult decisions about location.

“I don’t think a business in Orangeburg is going to pick up and move next week because the roads are bad, but at some point it will make more sense to be somewhere where you can have a better chance of getting your product in,” he said.

Brian Keys, deputy secretary for finance and administration for the S.C. Department of Transportation, said it would cost between $200 million and $400 million just to maintain the infrastructure in the state, and would “take something along the line of $600 million to $800 million or more a year to improve upon the system we have,” he said.

Keys also recognizes the safety concerns of the state’s infrastructure. He said that over the last three years the S.C. DOT has created traffic circles at high crash intersections in the state that has reduced crashes with significant injuries by 75%. “And we’re proud to say that since our first ones have been built we’ve had zero fatalities at those locations,” he said.

The DOT’s attention to safety is also seen on rural roads Keys said.

“Just adding two feet or a clear shoulder to a narrow road is a great help,” he said, adding that the agency’s regular safety and intersection program is building more turn lanes and providing for upgraded signals and coordinated signals for improved safety at intersections.

In April the S.C. House of Representatives sent the roads bill back to the Senate with changes in how the state picks highway commissioners. The House also maintained its position that the General Assembly must provide a sustaining source of funds to fix crumbling highways and bridges.

By a vote of 113-6, the House amended a Senate version of a bill that the lower chamber passed last year. The Senate amended the bill to eliminate an increase in taxes to pay for road funding and instead required that the Legislature appropriate $400 million annually to supplement the Transportation Department budget.

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-235-5677, ext. 103, or @SCBizTeresa on Twitter.

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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