COLUMBIA, S.C. — If a Senate budget proposal stays in the final bill, tolls could be coming to select portions of Interstate 95.
The budget amendment, included in the approved Senate budget, mandates the state to move forward with a plan to add tolls to the highway.
I-95 runs through the entire eastern portion of the state, connecting Georgia and North Carolina.
Senator Dick Harpootlian, (D) Richland, sponsored the amendment with others and said the tolls would be used to improve the interstate.
"Use that money to replace those bridges and three-lane I-95 from the Georgia line to the North Carolina line at no cost to the taxpayers," Harpootlian said.
During budget debates this week, Senate critics of the amendment said the already-raised gas tax in the state would accomplish the same goal.
"Well, on this particular road, somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of the people that use that road aren't from South Carolina or are trucks. So, why would, if I were in Columbia, why would my folks who desperately need malfunction junction fixed, want a single dime to go to pay for a road that's primarily used by people out of state or commercial truckers?" Harpootlian told WLTX on Friday.
Instead, Harpootlian said the four tolls, placed at major bridges on I-95, would fund the bridge repairs and interstate-widening, which in turn would free up existing state funds used for the interstate.
"The money we're spending to maintain 95, and fix it, would go elsewhere in the state. Again, malfunction junction, I-20, Charleston, Greenville, places that desperately need their roads fixed," Harpootlian added.
The four tolls would charge $2 each, meaning it would cost $8 to traverse the entire South Carolina stretch of I-95.
Senator Harpootlian said one way or another, someone's going to have to pay to replace the bridges.
"They're going to fail if we don't replace them, it's over a billion and a half dollars to do this and again, people that use it ought to pay for it," Harpootlian said.
The Richland Senator claimed estimates showed the toll profits each year would be enough to pay debt service on bridge-replacement bonds and leave $75-100 million leftover for interstate widening.
The budget amendment would have to make it through the budget's conference committee process and final General Assembly votes, as well as the Governor's signature, before becoming law.