Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– Today, South Carolina’s Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint announced their support for the House-Senate highway conference report. The surface transportation bill provides $286.4 billion in federal highway contract authority between 2004 and 2009, and is expected to pass the Senate and the House later this week. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation soon after.
“I’m very pleased we were able to get a deal that is more responsible for taxpayers,” said Senator DeMint, a member of the House and Senate conference committee. “This bill is not perfect but it’s a good step forward. I would have liked it to spend even less overall and to return even more to South Carolina, but this bill is a good compromise that stays within the budget and provides important benefits for our state.”
“The highway bill is very good news for motorists in South Carolina,” said Graham. “As a state, we were able to secure a more equitable funding formula which will put additional dollars toward our road system. It truly moves the ball forward in our efforts to build new roads while maintaining and improving the ones we currently have. I’m also pleased we were able to do it without breaking the federal bank. The bill is more fiscally responsible than the first version of the highway bill Senator DeMint and I voted against.”
In May, Senators DeMint and Graham voted against the original version of the bill that significantly exceeded budget authority. Their opposition, along with a veto threat from the President, pressured negotiators to agree on a more responsible bill that limits the six-year cost to $286.4 billion from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal 2009. Negotiators originally wanted to pass a $375 billion bill but the final compromise was much less, saving taxpayers over billions of dollars.
The highway conference report includes several important benefits for South Carolina secured by Senators Graham and DeMint. Under the new highway program, a better formula will return more federal gas tax dollars to South Carolina. South Carolina will ultimately receive 92 percent back on every dollar it sends to Washington in gas taxes, which is a meaningful increase from the 90.5 percent the state has received since 1998. The bill authorizes a total of over $2.9 billion for South Carolina over the six-year life of the program, an increase of nearly twenty-eight percent.
The conference report also includes a new safety program that will give states greater flexibility in addressing safety needs. This program will provide for safety improvements such as adding rumble strips, widening lanes, installing guard rails, and creating additional signage. All public roads are eligible for this new safety funding, benefiting states like South Carolina that have a high percentage of state-maintained roads.
“This bill accomplishes one of my top goals for the year by giving our state more control over our highway dollars,” DeMint said. “But much more still needs to be done. I hope that the next reauthorization will address serious reforms and give states full control over their highways. The federal program was created to develop an interstate highway system, but that system has been created and now we need to let the states run it.”
“I truly appreciate the work done by Jim [DeMint] and Henry [Brown] on the highway bill,” said Graham. “They’ve been leaders in this area and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for what they’ve been able to accomplish. Making sure our state was treated in a fair and equitable manner was a team effort, but these two guys served as team captains and deserve a great deal of credit.”
In addition to several important policy changes the conference report provides a fair share for South Carolina by authorizing over $2.9 billion in funding for transportation and infrastructure projects all across South Carolina. Specifically, the bill provides for $81 million in authorized funding for I-73 in the Pee Dee, $26.6 million for US-278 in Beaufort County, $11.6 million for the Palmetto Parkway in Aiken County, $6.8 million for Highway 9 in Spartanburg County, $4 million for Highway 5 in York County, among many others.