Lawmakers propose tolls to pay for new roads

South Carolina toll road

Despite passing a twelve-cent gas tax increase in 2017, lawmakers are fast-tracking a proposal to increase the number of toll roads in South Carolina to fund new road construction.

S.780 – a bill filed and placed on the calendar without a committee hearing last week – would allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to impose tolls in order to finance nearly any type of road project – including new road construction, interstate widening, non-interstate road reconstruction, bridge replacement, etc.

Moreover, the DOT would no longer be required to remove the toll after the project was paid for. The bill would also strike current law tying toll revenue only to the project on which it was imposed, and revenue from a toll road could be used to finance “improvements to the highway corridor.”

In other words, this bill would allow the DOT to impose permanent tolls to fund road construction projects all over the state.

Under current law, the DOT cannot place a toll on roads built before 1997 unless the General Assembly authorizes it in specific legislation, and if a toll project would cost more than $150 million, it must be initiated in partnership with a local government and approved in a local referendum. The bill strikes both of those provisions, allowing the DOT to impose tolls on old roads as well as new projects, and to initiate costly toll-funded projects without a local referendum.

This is not the only proposal to fund road projects with toll revenues. A proviso in the Senate budget would place a toll on I-95 for maintenance, upgrades, and expansion of that particular interstate.

S.780 bypassed committee and was placed directly on the Senate floor calendar the same day it was filed last week. If it passes the Senate, it will need a two-thirds majority to be taken up by the full House.

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