Category Archives: Transportation

Lucas gives McMaster’s roads letter the answer it deserves

Henry McMaster continues to disappoint those of us who had hoped for some leadership for a change over at the governor’s office.

At least, we kept telling ourselves, he hadn’t threatened to veto the bill increasing the gas tax and reforming DOT, the way Nikki Haley would have done.

Well, today he crossed that line.

Then he exacerbated it by coming up with a cockamamie alternative for paying for road repairs:

Promising to veto an increase to the state’s gas tax to repair the state’s roads, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster wants lawmakers instead to borrow up to $1 billion to fix South Carolina’s crumbling roads.

McMaster, governor since January, urged lawmakers to change a proposed $500 million borrowing plan, proposed by the House, to instead spend that money — and more — on roads. McMaster made his proposal in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington….

The speaker gave the proposal the contempt it deserved. Translated from genteel Lucasspeak, he not only said “No,” but “Hell, no:”

unnamed (1)

Governor McMaster’s proposal continues the pattern of placing the costs of road repair solely on the South Carolina taxpayer and not on out-of-state motorists who use and deteriorate our crumbling roads. Borrowing more money to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges will not serve as a permanent solution to our infrastructure crisis. The House passed our roads bill with an overwhelming bipartisan and veto proof majority, which protects the South Carolina taxpayer by providing a sustainable funding stream that requires every motorist to pay their fair share.

Not only is Henry throwing behind the runner — he’s throwing to first when the House has long ago crossed home plate — but the proposal would have been ridiculous even if it were still an open question in that body.

We have a mechanism for the ongoing funding of roads — the gas tax. You want to fix roads and you don’t have enough money, you raise the gas tax. It’s not complicated, and there is no call for trying to reinvent the wheel as a way of avoiding the obvious, commonsense solution….

What’s Henry McMaster afraid of? Mark Sanford?

McMaster for governor

Several weeks back, I was on an elevator with a Republican attorney who asked me what I though about how Henry McMaster was doing as governor.

As I was mentally crafting a reply — something like I have hopes, and I see the gasoline tax issue as one that will help determine whether the hopes are justified — he followed up his own question with speculation about Mark Sanford running against Henry in 2018, and wondering whether any other Republicans will run as well.

I don’t know what I said to that. After Donald Trump handed Henry the job he’d wanted so long, I had sort of stopped pondering 2018, thinking Well, that’s that. I certainly hadn’t given any thought to Mark Sanford having ambitions of running again for the office for which he is so spectacularly unsuited, as he spent eight years demonstrating. I probably just made some noises like homina-homina, as though the speech center of my brain had been struck by lightning.

I had not spent time worrying about that the same way I don’t wake up in the morning worrying about an invasion of Nazi zombies. (Of course, when the Nazi zombies do take over, you realize that you should have worried.)

Anyway, once the brain started running again, I started thinking: Is this why Henry’s running from the chance to lead on the gas tax? Is it all about fearing a challenge from Mr. Club for Growth? (And yeah, Sanford had been on a number of people’s 2018 speculation lists — I just hadn’t been paying attention to that stuff.)

Let’s set aside the absurdity of Sanford leaving his comfort zone to once again occupy the governor’s chair. Being a member of the “no” caucus in Congress suits Sanford’s style perfectly. His political M.O. is: Toss out proposals and watch them get shot down, and then moan about it. That seems to be what he runs to do. That makes him perfectly suited to be a member of the Freedom Caucus. Nobody expect them to accomplish anything. Do that as governor, and you just make the legislative leadership of your own party want to throttle you. They count the days until you’re gone, hoping you’ll be replaced by someone who wants to govern.

Which is what, after 14 years of Sanford and Nikki Haley, lawmakers had every reason to expect. And they did. They were even described as “giddy” about the prospect:

“He’s pragmatic,” said state Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester. “He gets people together to reach compromises. He doesn’t dig into one position, and you’re either with him or you’re not.”

Publicly, S.C. lawmakers offer mostly guarded assessments of Haley and their optimism about McMaster, who will ascend to the governor’s office once Haley is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in a few weeks.

Privately, however, some are giddy to trade in Haley – a 44-year-old Republican who bashed lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Legislature on Facebook and in their hometowns, offered failing “grades” to those who disagreed with her and told a real estate group to “take a good shower” after visiting the State House – for McMaster, a GOP governor they think will work with them….

Meanwhile, we saw the GOP leadership in the House stepping out and leading on fixing our roads — unabashedly raising the gas tax, and reforming governance of the agency.

And then, rather than joining them in the vanguard, Henry started muttering about what a bad idea raising the tax was (as though there were some rational alternative way of paying for roads, which there isn’t), making ominous “last resort” noises. As though we hadn’t gotten to the “last resort” stage some time ago.

No, he hasn’t promised to veto such an increase — which would have been his predecessor’s opening move — but he just won’t stop sending out bad vibes about it. (“Always with the negative waves, Moriarty!”)

It’s bad enough that the proposal has to run the Senate gauntlet, with Tom Davis shooting at it from one side and the “tax increase yes; reform no” crowd on the other. When a thing needs doing, the Senate is at its best dysfunctional. It would have been really, really nice to have the governor standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Speaker Lucas in trying to solve this problem, instead of standing by and watching it get kicked farther down the pothole-pocked road.

Taxes are a killer?” Really? No, governor — unsafe roads are a killer, if anything is on this front.

Of course, if one is inclined to pessimism, one might think the window for leadership has closed or soon will, now that a dark cloud has parked itself over anyone and everyone associated with Richard Quinn. I certainly hope that’s not the case, because we have issues in South Carolina that need to be addressed.

I also hope the governor won’t hold back out of fear of 2018, because at some point, you really need to stop running for office and govern

The Boeing vote against unionization

787

I used to work for a publisher who had come up through the newsroom, and he used to say that if a company’s employees vote to unionize, that’s the CEO’s fault: He had failed to run the company so that employees didn’t feel the need for a union.

If his rule holds, apparently Boeing is doing something right:

Production workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant voted Wednesday not to join the Machinists, maintaining southern reluctance toward unionization.

Vote totals weren’t immediately available. Under NLRB rules, workers must wait a year before another union vote.

In a statement, Machinists organizer Mike Evans said the union was disappointed with the vote but vowed to stay in close touch with Boeing workers to figure out next steps.

“Ultimately it will be the workers who dictate what happens next,” Evans said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to talk with hundreds of Boeing workers over the past few years. Nearly every one of them, whether they support the union or not, have improvements they want to see at Boeing. Frankly, they deserve better.”…

Since you have the union’s response, I’ll also give you this one from Lindsey Graham:

“Boeing’s South Carolina workforce is second to none.  As South Carolinians, these employees make us proud each day with every 787 Dreamliner that rolls off the assembly line.  They have earned every accolade that comes their way.   

“I was pleased to hear the results of yesterday’s election.  The employees’ decision will keep in place a business model that attracted Boeing to South Carolina in the first place.  Their vote is a strong signal to other businesses that South Carolina is a great place to call home. 

“Boeing is a valued community leader, an admirable employer, and a staple of the South Carolina business community.  We are proud they decided to call South Carolina home years ago and I continue to look forward to a beneficial relationship for the employees, community, and company in the years to come.”

As for what I think, well, I’m not a big union guy. I tend to think like Reid Ashe, my old publisher: It’s up to the employees, and I see no point in a union getting between employer and employed if they have a good, healthy relationship. (In other words, Bryan, if it’s a “happy ship.”)

Of course, as you know, I’m philosophically opposed to public employee unions. But in the private sector, it all depends…

Folks, let’s pay for our roads ourselves, OK?

SC House

Good for these House members:

A plan to raise S.C. gas taxes by roughly $60 a year was approved Tuesday by a panel of S.C. House members.

The bill will be considered by the full S.C. House budget-writing panel on Thursday.

The proposal is an effort to address the the $1 billion a year the Transportation Department has said it needs to repair and maintain the state’s existing road network….

And good for Speaker Jay Lucas and the other leaders who’ve gotten behind a bill to do the obvious: raise the gas tax to improve our roads.

I haven’t written about this courageous and rational move because I hadn’t fully made up my mind what to say about it. It’s basically a laudable, long-overdue proposal that is nevertheless seriously flawed.

The reasons why it’s laudable and long-overdue are obvious to all but those rendered blind by ideology:

  • This tax is our state’s mechanism for paying for roads.
  • We need road repairs, and don’t have enough money.
  • Our gas tax is one of the lowest in the country.
  • It hasn’t been raised since 1987.

So, you know, duh — raise it. Especially since we no longer have a governor who absurdly (and we’re talking Alice in Wonderland absurdity) threatened to veto a gas tax increase that wasn’t accompanied by a much larger decrease in other taxes, thereby more than erasing any benefit from raising the gas tax.

But here’s the rub: It’s not paired with reform of the state Department of Transportation. And it needs to be. That agency needs to be more accountable before we give it more money.

Unfortunately, after last year’s non-reform of the agency, the most recent in a long line of non-reforms our General Assembly has handed us, there’s little appetite or energy for trying again this year, knowing the same obstacles exist. As Cindi wrote today, “the reality is that if our best advocate, House Speaker Jay Lucas, isn’t pushing reform, we’re not going to get reform.”

So that’s that. (Oh, and if you decry the power Hugh Leatherman regained upon his re-election as president pro tem of the Senate, this is an issue where you have a point — he’s a big obstacle to reform.)

Bottom line, we need to raise the tax, and we need reform. I haven’t yet fully decided what I would do were I a lawmaker. But I do admire the courage of those who finally broke the ridiculous taboo in that committee vote today — while I hope against hope for some reform to get attached to it later in the process.

But while I’m torn on that, I’m not on this: I’m not in favor of “solving” the problem by asking our new governor’s buddy Donald Trump to just give us $5 billion for infrastructure.

To begin with, it’s not a solution. Since $4 billion of that would go to roads, that kicks the problem down the road four years, no more. Which, conveniently, would be after the date that Henry McMaster hopes to be elected to stay as governor.

Given what we’ve seen from this Legislature over the last two decades and more, it is highly unlikely that it will be in the mood to raise the gas tax or any other tax four years from now. The fact that the House leadership is ready to do so now is something of a miracle — possibly resulting from giddiness over the departure of Nikki Haley — and unlikely to be duplicated.

Then there’s the fact that the federal government exists to fund and address national needs and priorities. There is no proposal currently on the table (that I know of) that would provide this level of funding nationally, so why should South Carolina — a state that with its super-low gas tax has refused even to try to pay for its own roads — be singled out for such largess? And no, “Because the president owes our governor big-time” is not an ethical answer. It probably makes sense in the deal-oriented private world Donald Trump has always inhabited, but to say the very least, it’s not good government.

My position on this is much the same as my reasoning against the state lottery way back when — public education is a basic function of the state, and if we want good schools, we should do what responsible grownups do: dig into our pockets and pay for them, not try to trick someone else into paying for them.

Similarly, if we want safe and reliable roads, we shouldn’t rely on some deus ex machina — or worse, cronyism — to deliver us from the responsibility of paying for them.

I see now that Henry is saying raising the gas tax should be the “last resort.” No, governor, trying to pay for our own needs ourselves should be our first resort. At least, it should come well before taking the begging cup to Washington. Besides, we’ve avoided doing this for 30 years now. How long do you go before it’s time for the “last resort?”

 

An invitation to sign a petition for safer roads

spwefyzxoltzhfb-800x450-nopad

There’s this petition website I receive frequent invitations from called change.org. You may have encountered it. I think I may have signed one of their petitions for something one of my daughters was pressing for, so I keep getting the pleas to throw in with this or that cause, most of which I delete.

I thought I’d share this one since it has such a strong South Carolina angle.

The petition, by Emily Rabon, is addressed to Robby Robbins, Mike Wooten, Mark Sanford, Jenny Horne, Christopher Murphy, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott.

But in any case, here’s her plea:

South Carolina roads are literally killing people. No more meetings, audits, reports, or studies—it’s time to take action. No matter where you live, will you please join us in our fight for justice and safety for all?

A quick visit to the official South Carolina Tourism website paints a picture perfect image of South Carolina. The simple slogan, “South Carolina—Just Right” is displayed prominently in the upper left hand corner of the website for all visitors to clearly see. What isn’t “Just Right” about South Carolina, however, is the condition of many  roads across the state.

On December 23, 2015, Glenn Forrest Rabon, Jr., better known as Tripp, was killed suddenly in a car accident ultimately caused by a flooded roadway on Highway 64 (SR 64) in Colleton County. The condition of the road was known and reported on multiple occasions, yet neglected countless times by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). Tripp was a senior in high school. He was an honor student and athlete with plans to attend Clemson University in the fall of 2016; but above all, he was a beloved son, brother, and a friend to all he encountered. His time on Earth was cut short due to no fault of his own—only the hazardous conditions of the South Carolina roads were to blame.

Sadly, South Carolina is among the top 5 states in the nation for car crash fatalities due to unsafe conditions on the road. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a report (July 2016) illustrating that traffic deaths in 2015 were at an all-time high—a shocking 7.7 percent nationwide. Furthermore, there were 154 more fatal car crashes in 2015 than there were in 2014; that’s 977 fatalities total. Let that sink in for a moment—977 car crash fatalities in 2015. That’s an increase of 16 percent, or in other words, a fact that shows driving has proved to be almost twice as deadly for South Carolina drivers as opposed to drivers throughout the rest of the country.

Interestingly, SCDOT is currently advertising and advocating for “a vision to zero traffic fatalities”, echoing the idea that “the road to zero starts with you [the driver]”. While safe driving is a responsibility that should be respected and practiced by all participants, the “Target Zero” safety initiative fails to address what the driver cannot control—the physical condition of the road itself. But together, as one voice, we can change this unsettling fact.

Fatal traffic accidents, like the one that took Tripp’s precious life, can realistically be avoided. The goal of this movement is to enact legislation to implement a way to prioritize projects that promote transportation safety across the state. It is notable that only months ago (September 2016), the SCDOT Commissioners approved $23,000,000 to be used for beautification projects across the state instead of allotting the money to roadways in dire need of repair. It is the hope of Tripp’s family and friends that passing TRIPP’s Law will ultimately make South Carolina safer, and thus, save the lives of others before it is too late. TRIPP’s Law will require SCDOT to make use of advanced technology to create an online, up-to-the-minute-report, which will utilize both public and government input of reported, unsafe road conditions. The law will require a prioritized repair report called, TRIPP’s Report, which similarly will use past and present road conditions. It will likewise include recent repairs (completed or pending) and show statistics (such as accidents, fatalities, 911 calls, public repair requests, etc.) in real time.

Anyone that knew Tripp would say, without a shadow of a doubt, Tripp was put on this Earth to make the lives of others better. Please help us continue to promote Tripp’s legacy of kindness and his willingness to help others by both signing and sharing this petition to protect and inform drivers who travel in South Carolina about crash and repair reports for SC roadways. Together, we can come together to advocate for safer South Carolina roadways so we can save lives!

Anyone who is willing and feels he or she would be of substantial help to the cause, TRIPP’s Law, is encouraged to contact Tripp’s sister, Emily, at TrippRabonsLaw@gmail.com

I certainly feel for Ms. Rabon’s loss, and Lord knows our roads are underfunded, but I would need to know more before signing the petition. I’m not entirely clear on how the law would help, since it seems focused on new reporting requirements, rather than changing priorities or finding new funding sources. She says “No more meetings, audits, reports, or studies,” but this does seem to be about reports.

It might help if I could see the bill.

Changing the subject slightly, my greatest hope for safer roads is that Gov. Henry McMaster will show some actual leadership on the issue, abandoning Nikki Haley’s opposition to raising the gas tax without cutting another tax by a larger amount, which frankly is one of the craziest ideas to emerge on the state scene in the last several years.

The State wrote on that subject today, by the way. There’s still no indication which way Henry will go. But putting forward a rational road-funding plan would be a great start toward being a better governor than his predecessor…

DOT wants to put an Interstate in front of my house, I have not been notified, and today is the last day to comment

14682002_653657648135366_7333884884471814398_o

Here’s the notice that was brought to my attention — not by the government, but by my daughter — this afternoon.

Actually, that headline pretty much states the case, but I’ll elaborate a bit.

I’m a big Douglas Adams fan. But I’d always thought what he was writing was satire, outlandish situations that couldn’t possibly be true-to-life, which were grossly distorted for comic effect.

For instance, take this passage from the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which our loser hero Arthur Dent has just lain in front of a bulldozer that is trying to knock his house down in order to build the bypass he has just learned about:

piece-1piece-2

Funny, huh?

Well, today I learned that Adams wasn’t writing a comic novel. He was writing journalism. Predictive journalism, I suppose you’d call it. He was describing the very situation in which I find myself today.

Today, I forgot to bring in the lunch I had prepared, so I drove home to eat it there. Good thing, too. As I walked in, my wife was on the phone expressing amazement and alarm, and saying things like, “Nobody told ME!!!…”

She was on the phone with my daughter who lives in Shandon, who had discovered, quite incidentally, through a mutual acquaintance’s social media post, that the state of South Carolina had rather specific plans to build an Interstate more or less through our house (as I initially heard it in that moment of shock), and that today was the last day for comments.

And no, no one had told us. No one had walked down our street to knock on doors and tell us (assuming they had the courage) or left little fliers on our doorknobs (assuming they didn’t, which seems the safer bet). No one had sent us anything via snail mail. Or emailed us. Or sent us Facebook messages, or Tweets, or texts, or called on the phone, or left a comment on my blog, or used any of the bewildering array of communication methods available in the Year of Our Lord 2016.

In other words, I’d have been no worse off if the notice had been on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”

Nor had I seen any news coverage of the plan, which is one of three potential routes the state is considering for addressing the “problem” called Malfunction Junction.

Of course, I must confess, I had seen stories in the paper about that process, and hadn’t read any of them. You know why? Because I wasn’t interested. You know why? Because it had never struck me as a particularly compelling issue. Because why? Because I live less than a mile from the much-cursed interchange, and people have been griping about it ever since I moved back to South Carolina in 1987, and I have yet to fully understand what they are whining about.

I’ve passed through that intersection coming from every direction and going in every direction, at every time of day on every day of the week, and yeah, it gets backed up somewhat during peak drive times. You know what I call that? Living in a city. You know how to deal with it? Adjust your route, or your drive time. Or just live with it. Try this: Go live in the District of Columbia for a month and come back here, and you’ll get down and kiss the pavement at the very knottiest point of the intersection of Interstates 20 and 26. Just kidding. Don’t do that. If you do, people will start whining about you causing traffic to back up, and next thing you know, I’ve got the bulldozers at my door…

Oh, but wait — I do anyway. Almost.

But, upon closer examination, there’s good news: Once I took a careful look at the proposed connector, I saw that it wasn’t exactly, technically, going directly through my living room. No, when I zoom in as much as the website will let me (which isn’t much), it looks like it’s going down the SCE&G right-of-way that runs directly behind the houses across the street from me. That’s a good 50 or even 100 feet from my house. All it would do is cut me off from the only ways out of my subdivision, aside from swimming across the Saluda River.

Whew. And to think I was worried.

But let’s calm down a bit. Let’s get informed. Let’s go read the news coverage we’ve been ignoring, shall we? Such as this story in The State last week, which gets specific:

If the Department of Transportation decides improving existing intersections and widening roads is the way to go, the bulk of the properties affected will be along Broad River and St. Andrews roads. Those two commercial thoroughfares parallel either side of I-26 in the heart of the busy corridor.

Widening Broad River would affect 999 sites, while another 705 would be affected on St. Andrews, according to plans outlined at an update on the massive road project at Seven Oaks School….

Ummmm… I didn’t see anything there, or elsewhere in the story, that in any way indicated that there was something to which I needed pay attention!!!!

Did you? I mean, I live on the opposite side of the river from all of that. And it sounded like they had no intention of disturbing residential areas.

Here’s the map. The crudely drawn yellow star shows you where my house is:

my-house

Apparently, there are two alternatives to ripping through my subdivision under consideration. Both are on the other side of the river from me, are cheaper, and would disturb far fewer people that the one cutting through my neighborhood.

Here’s the comparison:

choices

The one called “Directional Interchange” is the one that goes through my neighborhood. The two above it seem to go mostly through some woods. Although… there is slightly greater wetland impact.

So obviously, since we live in a rational universe, I have nothing to worry about, right?

Oh, wait. I just remembered: Donald Trump is a major-party nominee for president of the United States in this universe. And there’s no guarantee he’s going to lose.

OK, I’m worried.

Wait — I just remembered: Today is my last day to comment. OK, here’s my comment:

Don’t do it. Don’t do any of these. Save the money. Or, if you must address this problem, choose one of the options that cost less and cause less disruption.

That, by the way, would be my recommendation if this didn’t come anywhere within 100 miles of my house. It’s sort of my default position.

Oh, and one other thing, which may sound personal, but also fits with my beliefs about sound public policy: Next time, how about giving a guy a heads-up?

Thanks.

Now, could someone please hand me something that says, in large, reassuring letters, DON’T PANIC?

(Below you see the other two routes under consideration.)

woods

woods-2

Do you have questions about the penny tax?

newlogo824x180

I know some of you do, to say the least.

Maybe you’d like to go to this:

For Immediate Release

September 8, 2016

**MEDIA ALERT**

     WHERE DOES YOUR MONEY GO?  

Educational Forum Planned for Richland County Penny Tax

WHAT:    “Pennies Impacting People” Educational Forum

WHEN:    6:30 – 7:30 p.m., Thursday, September 15

WHERE:   Richland Library Main, Third Level Programming Space
1431 Assembly St.
Columbia, SC 29201

WHO:      Free & open to the public

Are you curious about how the Richland County Penny Tax works? Members of the community will have an opportunity to learn about specific projects that impact local transportation – including roads, sidewalks and greenway infrastructure. WIS News 10 Anchor Judi Gatson will lead a discussion with representatives from:

  • Richland County Council
  • Richland County Transportation
  • Richland Penny Program Development Team
  • The Comet transit system
  • Citizens for a Greater Midlands

A question-and-answer session will follow.

For questions, please contact Emily Stoll at 803-587-3637 or email estoll@richlandlibrary.com.

If I go, I might ask them to please stop using “impact” as a verb. We all have our priorities…

Interesting juxtaposition: Haley vetoes helmet bill; three motorcyclists killed

helmets

Talk about your ironies, check out the above juxtaposition of headlines from thestate.com.

In the moped safety story, the governor cites some libertarian claptrap about “government overreach” in vetoing a bill that would require moped riders under 18 to wear helmets, and all riders to wear reflective clothing at night. But to her credit, she does say she remains open to new moped safety laws, just not this one. Here’s her veto message.

In the other story, we have five tragic cases of the sort that is all too common, three of them involving motorcyclists. I wonder how many were wearing helmets.

No, there’s not a cause-and-effect here. And of course, mopeds and motorcycles aren’t exactly the same thing. I just found the timing interesting…

Penny Tax leads to… a sidewalk! So all you critics shut up, OK?

sidewalk

Yikes!

I got an email announcement from the Penny Tax program (maddening tagline, “Pennies Impacting People,” which I am not making up) trumpeting a triumphant milestone in the tax’s transformation of our local infrastructure:

A new sidewalk in the county has officially opened thanks to funding by the transportation penny sales tax. Richland County and the Richland Penny Program held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, May 20 for the Windover Street Sidewalk Project.

“Completing projects and improving the quality of life for our residents is what the Transportation Penny Program is all about,” said County Councilman Torrey Rush. “The sidewalk may seem like a small project compared to the road widenings we have on the list, but this project is a big deal to the surrounding community.”…(read more)

Yeah, it kinda does. Seem small, I mean. Yeah, I know, if you live on that road and have to get around in a wheelchair this is a great improvement for you. But if you’re one of the taxpayers wanting some answers on what benefit you’re getting… it’s not so great.

At least Paul Livingston had the good sense to list some larger projects that are getting built…

No, wait. He didn’t. He referred us to the website, which touts…

Yikes again…

pedestrian bridge

Speaker Lucas is right to trash the Senate GOP roads plan

SCRoadsBandaidAriailW

I understand from various sources that the Senate today is debating, and plans to vote on, the “roads plan” that I excoriated last week. Here’s hoping it’s not going well.

As Cindi wrote the other day, the GOP proposal has its good parts, including real reform in governance of DOT. But it also contains an absolute dealbreaker, ladies:

If the legislation skipped over Section 4, Gov. Nikki Haley would be correct to say it’s “exactly what we need.” We would have the reform we need, and the Legislature could devote some one-time money to roads again this year and adopt a long-term funding plan next year that befits the reformed Transportation Department.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t skip Section 4, which commits not just this General Assembly but every General Assembly in perpetuity to siphoning $400 million out of our state’s general budget fund and giving it to the Transportation Department.

The result is a bill that promises to break trust with the voters and strangle out other state obligations and, at bottom, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

For as long as we have been paving roads, we have collected a gas tax and driver fees to build and maintain those roads, on the theory that people inside and outside of South Carolina who use our roads the most should pay the most for them.

We have collected sales and income taxes to pay for our schools and courts and state police and child protection and economic development and environmental protection and most other state services.

The Senate plan changes that, dramatically. It diverts $400 million in sales and income taxes — more than 5 percent of the state budget — to pay for roads. That means we have $400 million less — not just next year but every year going forward — to pay teacher salaries, including extra pay to reward and attract the best teachers for the neediest students, to pay cities and counties for holding elections and performing other duties the state requires them to perform, to hire caseworkers to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents, to employ the judges who lock up the bad guys and the prison guards who keep the bad guys from escaping and the scientists who test our water to make sure it’s safe to drink, and everything else.

The roads diversion breaks trust with voters, in much the same way lawmakers do when they raid trust funds….

Make no mistake: A proper roads bill includes both proper reform and a gas tax increase. And it most assuredly does not include an open-ended raid on the funding for everything else the state of South Carolina does.

If Harvey Peeler manages to ram through this awful mess today, it will be up to the House to kill it. And Speaker Jay Lucas said it best last week:

1126136229“For 323 days, the Senate has had every opportunity to show leadership and propose a real, long-term solution for road repair in South Carolina. The current Senate amendment simply kicks the can further down the road and frankly, into a pothole. The General Assembly has been using general fund dollars to slap a band-aid on roads for years with very little to show for it. I urge the Senate to give this issue the attention that it requires and rally around a proposal with a long-term solution that keeps our families safe and our economy thriving.”

 

 

 

That’s no roads deal. It’s a cut-everything-else deal…

I’m running from meeting to meeting today, but here’s a topic to get y’all started:

The “good” news is that they don’t cut income taxes — which, of course, was always an insane, utterly irrelevant condition imposed by the governor.

So basically, it’s a wash. It’s a deal that does nothing to address the need for an adequate revenue stream for roads…

Public transportation: To me, magic. To Doug, an insufferable hassle

My personal fave may be the London Underground. It's gear; it's fab; and all those pimply hyperboles...

My personal fave may be the London Underground. It’s gear; it’s fab; and all those pimply hyperboles…

Our brief exchange today about public transportation reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post this email Doug Ross sent me the other day:

Brad,
I’m still struggling with your love affair with public transportation.  Here’s my latest experience:  I started a new job today and had to travel to Boston for a week of onboarding.  I’m staying with my son who lives about 15 miles south of Boston.   Here’s how our journey went today:
1. Walk 15 minutes in 40 degree weather to train station (or he could drive and pay $7 a day to park)
2. Buy pass for the week for $19 (a reasonable deal, about what I pay per week now for a tank of gas in my Honda)
3. Wait 8 minutes for train
4. Board train. Luckily he is at one of the first stops so I was able to get a seat.  But I am not a small person and that means sharing personal shoulder space with the people on either side of me.
5. Train starts moving.  It doesn’t smell great in the car.   Not as funky as the night before when I spent 20 minutes beside someone who smelled like a mixture of old milk and onions, but not as pleasant as my personal car interior.
6. Next stop, a bunch of people get on.   They all are standing.  Had I seen a woman nearby, I would have given up my seat (since I am a gentleman at heart) but there were none.
7. The guy in front of me decides to stand facing me with his crotch perhaps 18 inches from my face.   This RARELY happens in my car.  In fact, it has NEVER happened.
8. Spend the next 20 minutes hunched over my phone so I don’t have to stare at crotch guy.   My neck starts to hurt 15 minutes in.
9. Arrive in downtown Boston and fight the masses to get off train, hike up stairs to sunshine, and then walk 5 minutes to office.   Imagine if it was a rainy/snowy day?
Overall it took 45 minutes to travel 15 miles.   Maybe it would be worse in a car.  Yes, the parking downtown would make it impossible to justify economically.  But if I had to do this every day, I would quit my job and move to the suburbs.
Your mileage may vary.

For Doug, his unhappy experiences with public transportation — even with those systems that are my favorites, such as London’s Tube — are closely related to his disdain of government as inherently inefficient and incompetent.

All he can see is the hassles; all he can think is how much he’d rather be in his car.

Whereas for me, having the rare privilege of getting to ride on a subway is like a magic carpet ride. I LOVE it. You walk down some steps (or ride an escalator), step onto this conveyance that emerges from nowhere out of a dark tunnel (Minding the Gap, of course), and emerge moments later miles away across a metropolis that would be a nightmare to negotiate in a car, bypassing the traffic as though it doesn’t exist.

Wonderful…

images (3)

The puzzling, chronic snarl at I-26 and Sunset

The problem is with the folks following the red line -- exiting I26 coming from Charleston, and heading west on 378 toward Lexington.

The problem is with the folks following the red line — exiting I-26 coming from Charleston, and heading west on 378 toward Lexington. They completely block traffic on 378, for light cycle after light cycle.

Here’s some hyper-ultra-local for you… It will be relevant to anyone who lives in Lexington and has to drive into Columbia on a regular basis.

I’m puzzled by a phenomenon that has just cropped up in the last couple of weeks. I’m puzzled a) that it’s happening now and b) that it never happened before (to my knowledge; maybe I was just lucky before). File this under “the stupidity of crowds,” or something like that.

The interchange at Interstate 26 and Sunset/378 in West Columbia is… unusual. It opened for business about a decade ago after years of work. Replacing a conventional older interchange that was frequently the cause of a lot of traffic backing up toward Lexington, it was at first a bit confusing, but as locals caught on, it helped things flow much more smoothly. Occasionally, there’s somebody from out of town who misreads it, but mostly it’s worked pretty well.

Until just a couple of weeks ago.

Now, all of a sudden, if I’m heading home from downtown anywhere near rush hour, traffic will be backed up a mile or two on Sunset, starting at about Hummingbird or sooner. I mean standing still for long periods of time. Yeah, I know — rush hour is rush hour. But it didn’t get bad  until a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t figure out why.

I mean, I know what’s happening, because it’s easy to see when you finally get to the interchange: People getting off I-26 coming from the direction of Charleston, and trying to go west on 378 toward Lexington, are going ahead and turning when the intersection isn’t clear, and forming a line completely blocking 378. So people on 378 trying to go in either direction are completely blocked, sometimes for light cycle after light cycle.

I just don’t see why people started doing this all of a sudden, after not doing it for years. But they did, and it’s a huge pain.

Below is a shot of what it looked like at 2:22 p.m. yesterday. I was heading toward Columbia on 378 after having gone home for lunch. I had the green light, but we were going nowhere because all these people from the Interstate were blocking us.

Note that this wasn’t even at rush hour.

I just don’t get it. Why is this happening now?

snarl 2

Hurrah for Jarvis Klapman!

Look at those beautiful green lines of flowing traffic!

Look at those beautiful green lines of flowing traffic!

The story on the front page of The State about flood-related traffic jams seemed a bit out of sync to me (although I understand plenty of others continue to have trouble), because I read it right after my easiest crossing of the river since the floods.

Opening Jarvis Klapman really made a huge difference. I left the house worried that I was going to be late because I had less than an hour to get downtown… and it was a breeze. I couldn’t believe how well things were flowing on Sunset, until I saw the reason why — cars whizzing overhead on the Jarvis Klapman overpass.

You really don’t appreciate a simple thing like having a 15-20-minute commute until you lose it for a few days. And I would never have thought that closing Jarvis Klapman — which is never particularly crowded — would turn Gervais, Meeting, Sunset, Knox Abbott and Blossom into parking lots at rush hour.

So I’m happy.

How are y’all’s traffic situations going?

Growing South Carolina’s car-manufacturing industry

It occurs to me that I should make myself do more short contact-report-type posts, whenever I run into a newsmaker and pick up a tidbit.

So here’s one….

Yesterday, I ran into Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt (my long-ago managing editor) getting on the elevator heading up to his office. I expressed surprise that he wasn’t on his way to Germany with the governor.

He said he wasn’t needed on this trip. Anyway, he figures he’s done the trek to Germany enough, what with his years with BMW after he left the paper.

Noting that the trip is about building relationships with automobile manufacturing suppliers, he gave me his elevator speech on that topic before he got out on the 16th floor: South Carolina is now home to 250 such suppliers — 80 of them added since he’s been at Commerce.

I stuck out my hand and congratulated him on that. After all, one wants to encourage that kind of success.

Is America’s love affair with cars really hitting the brakes?

SOME young guys still love cars: This is my grandson two years ago, when he was just learning to stand.

SOME young guys still love cars: This is my grandson two years ago, when he was just learning to stand.

…Mom&Dad&Buddy&Sis in the suburbs… There they go, in the family car, a white Pontiac Bonneville sedan— the family car! —a huge crazy god-awful-powerful fantasy creature to begin with, 327-horsepower, shaped like twenty-seven nights of lubricious luxury brougham seduction— you’re already there, in Fantasyland, so why not move off your snug-harbor quilty-bed dead center and cut loose—go ahead and say it—Shazam!—juice it up to what it’s already aching to be: 327,000 horsepower, a whole superhighway long and soaring , screaming on toward…Edge City, and ultimate fantasies, current and future…Billy Batson said Shazam! And turned into Captain Marvel.

— The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Dear Millennials,

As sick as I am of hearing about y’all (when everyone knows the only truly fascinating generation was the Baby Boom), come on home. All is forgiven, if you are truly ushering in an era when America will be a little less crazy about cars. From The Washington Post over the weekend:

Cruising toward oblivion

America’s once magical – now mundane – love affair with cars

… For nearly all of the first century of automobile travel, getting your license meant liberation from parental control, a passport to the open road. Today, only half of millennials bother to get their driver’s licenses by age 18. Car culture, the 20th-century engine of the American Dream, is an old guy’s game.

“The automobile just isn’t that important to people’s lives anymore,” says Mike Berger, a historian who studies the social effect of the car. “The automobile provided the means for teenagers to live their own lives. Social media blows any limits out of the water. You don’t need the car to go find friends.”

Much of the emotional meaning of the car, especially to young adults, has transferred to the smartphone, says Mark Lizewskie, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, Pa. “Instead of Ford versus Chevy, it’s Apple versus Android, and instead of customizing their ride, they customize their phones with covers and apps,” he says. “You express yourself through your phone, whereas lately, cars have become more like appliances, with 100,000-mile warranties.”…

Personally, I have my doubts that folks who are in the time of life when hormones rule most dominantly are really satisfied with, say, interacting with the opposite sex via text rather than in the back seat.

But whatever the cause, if there’s an opening here for public transportation (which I love) and bicycles and walking, a chance at a less Hummeresque future, well then good for you, young people! The Energy Party salutes you! (But I think you boys should maybe get your T-levels checked, just to be on the safe side.)

I’ll close with a couple of pictures of my family’s (that is, my parents’) favorite car ever, the 396-horsepower 1965 Impala Super Sport (cue the sound of Tim the Tool Man grunting). This isn’t the actual car, but it looked just like the one(s) in these photos. I never got to drive this one (I was only 11 when we got it), so I feel like I missed out:

65impalaSS_dsf

Chevrolet_Impala_SS_1965_2

Charleston gets funding for port deepening

I don’t pay all that much attention to this issue, but I should. So I’ll pass on this announcement from Lindsey Graham, from a few minutes ago:

Charleston Port Receives Pre-Construction Funding for 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today applauded news that the Charleston Port Harbor Post-45 Deepening Project will receive $1.303 million in Preconstruction Engineering and Design (PED) funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work plan allocations for Fiscal Year 2015. This allocation of funds will allow the preconstruction phase of the project to begin immediately.

Last week, the Army Corps’ Civil Works Review Board (CWRB) unanimously approved the port deepening project, keeping the project on schedule. This vote was a necessary condition for receiving today’s allocation and will allow the Port to be eligible for the remainder of PED funding in Fiscal Year 2016 and be ready for full construction dollars in Fiscal Year 2017.

“Today’s $1.3 million allocation is fantastic news for the Port of Charleston and for expediting the deepening project,” said Graham. “I again applaud the Army Corps of Engineers for amending its FY 2015 work plan to include funding for the Port. This money is yet another sign of the Port’s value to the country as a whole and a welcome step toward ensuring construction and eventual completion.”

Graham is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves on the Energy and Water Subcommittee. He was an early and ardent advocate for deepening Charleston Harbor and continues the fight to secure federal authorization and funding for the project.

#####

Joel Lourie on the ‘toxic’ atmosphere in the Senate

You know, I quit doing “The Brad Show” — thereby devastating my millions of fans, who had to console themselves with “Game of Thrones” instead — because it just got to be too much of a physical hassle to produce, especially after the guys who used to shoot it for me moved out of the ADCO building.

But lately I’ve been thinking… I still have my iPhone. Why not go back to the kind of guerrilla video reportage for which this blog was once famous — quick-hitting, spur-of-the-moment clips on the news of the day?

So today, I was talking with Sen. Joel Lourie after a Community Relations Council luncheon at which he and Sen. Katrina Shealy had just been honored with CRC’s annual Hyman Rubin Distinguished Service Award, and he happened to mention that the atmosphere in the Senate chamber was as toxic as at any time he could remember. Here’s what he was referring to.

So, thinking with the blinding speed to which my readers are accustomed, I asked whether he wanted to say that on video. He said no. Then he said yes.

So here ya go.

Since we spoke briefly about roads, I thought I’d call your attention to Cindi Scoppe’s piece today describing what real roads reform would look like. And of course, it’s a classic with its roots deep in the Power Failure series: Turn the roads over to local governments, and leave the local governments alone to fund them as they see fit. A solution that, of course, strikes right at the heart of the Legislative State, which is why nothing like this has ever come close to happening.

If we’re gonna dream about what really ought to happen, we might as well dream big.

Oh, and on the subject of the budget, which Sen. Lourie also mentioned, here’s another good column from Cindi casting doubt on Joel’s man Hugh Leatherman to deliver on that…

If you live in Columbia, buying the new Toyota hydrogen car could actually make sense

Something jumped out at me in this story in The Washington Post about Toyota’s new hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai (the name comes from the Japanese word for “future.”)

Along with all the gee-whiz stuff, such as the 300-mile range and the fact that it takes only five minutes to refuel (versus all night for other electrics), there were some caveats — and that’s where I found the good news for South Carolinians who’d be willing to pony up the 50 Gs for one of these things:

The Mirai’s sole fuel source is hydrogen, which you can get in only a dozen fueling stations across the country: 10 in California, one in Connecticut and one in South Carolina. More are in development, but there’s still no way this will be a road-trip car anytime soon.

And, last time I looked, that one was in Columbia.

No, wait… there were two in South Carolina, weren’t there? One was around Aiken, I believe. So maybe one closed. I hope that wasn’t the one in Columbia…