I-95 may get tolls in SC

May 12, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE – Four tolls may be coming to Interstate 95 in South Carolina.

Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. of Florence says he will push for the tolls.

Where would the tolls be located?

According to a feasibility study conducted by the state Department of Transportation, the tolls would be located on either side of bridges that would be replaced using the funds collected at the tolls. The bridges to be replaced are the bridge over the Great Pee Dee River located at mile marker 174, the bridge over Lake Marion, a bridge over S.C. 64 located at mile marker 57, and a bridge over Jasper County Route 241 and a railroad at mile marker 3.

The tolls for the Great Pee Dee River bridge could be located in Florence or Dillon counties. The tolls for the Lake Marion bridge could be located in either Clarendon County, which lies north of the lake, or Orangeburg County, which lies south of it. The bridge at mile marker 57 is in Colleton County, and the bridge at mile marker 3 is in Jasper County.

Interstate 95 runs from the Canadian border near Houghton, Maine, to just south of downtown Miami, Fla. In South Carolina, the interstate runs from the North Carolina border near Dillon to the Georgia border near Hardeeville. The route of the interstate goes through Dillon, Florence, briefly through Darlington, Sumter, Clarendon, Orangeburg, Dorchester, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties.

How much would the tolls cost?

Under an amendment to the state budget proposed by state Sen. Richard A. “Dick” Harpootlian, the tolls would cost $2 each, thus it would cost $8 to go from Georgia to North Carolina or vice versa.

Harpootlian has said that between 65 and 75 percent of the traffic on Interstate 95 is not local to South Carolina, meaning the people are traveling through the state and are not from or visiting the state.

Harpootlian, a Democrat, is South Carolina’s newest state senator, having won a special election held on Nov. 6, 2018, to represent Senate District 20. The district includes northwestern Richland County and a line running through eastern Lexington and into western Richland counties.

There could be some push from the Senate and the House to collect funds from people using but not paying for the roads.

How much revenue would that raise?

The feasibility study estimates it will take $500 million to replace the four bridges. According to the study, it would take 35 years of tolls to pay off the bonds that would be issued to fund the bridge replacements.

Harpootlian was more optimistic in an interview with another media outlet, estimating that the tolls could fund the bridge replacement and leave $75 million to $100 million to widen the interstate.

How do the tolls get implemented?

An amendment proposed to the state budget by Harpootlian directs the state’s Department of Transportation to establish a toll located on one side of the Interstate 95 bridge over Lake Marion. That toll would be located in either Clarendon, which lies north of the lake, or Orangeburg, which lies to the south.

The amendment also directs the department to proceed with the recommendations contained in a study of the feasibility of tolls along the interstate. The study was directed by several members of the General Assembly during a 2017 infrastructure debate.

The Senate’s version of the budget contains the proviso. However, the House’s budget does not.

As with all differences in the budget between the houses of the General Assembly, a conference committee of three senators and three representatives is appointed to resolve the differences. The conference committee members are Sen. Leatherman, Sen. Darrell Jackson, Sen. Sean Bennett, Rep. G. Murrell Smith, Rep. Gary Simrill, and Rep. Todd G. Rutherford.

Leatherman, a Republican, represents Senate District 31 which includes most of Florence County and two small pieces of eastern Darlington County. He was previously the president pro tempore of the Senate before the position was changed to president. Leatherman elected to continue to serve as chairman of the Finance Committee rather than seeking the position of president. He has served as a senator since 1981.

“I will be pushing for tolls,” Leatherman said. “We have not been able to add capacity to our interstates. Our interstates are choking with traffic.”

Leatherman added that the implementation of tolls would be dependent upon approval by the federal government. He said the federal government had recently relaxed tolling restrictions but the committee would need to look at the issue to determine its feasibility.

Jackson, a Democrat, represents Senate District 21, which includes eastern Richland County. Bennett, a Republican, represents Senate District 38, which includes an area near the border of Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties.

Smith, a Republican, represents House District 67, which includes central eastern Sumter County. He is the head of House Ways and Means Committee.

Simrill, a Republican, represents House District 46, which includes a portion of central York County. Rutherford, a Democrat, represents House District 74, which includes a portion of Richland County.