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Charleston Business

SCDOT: $1B in Projects Underway on I-85, Malfunction Junx and 526 are next

Jun 25, 2018 01:20PM ● By Chris Haire
The first year of the gas-tax era comes to an end on July 1, and with it, the South Carolina Department of Transportation says their 10-year plan to fix the Palmetto's State's roads and bridges is breaking records. 

According to a SCDOT report, the cost of current projects is at $3 billion, a figure three times the norm. 

SCDOT reports that I-85 is currently home to $1 billion in projects while another $1 billion in work is set to begin sometime within the next one to two years at Columbia's Malfunction Junction, aka Carolina Crossroads.

Following those projects will be improvements on I-526 in the Charleston area. The 526 project will include work from Rivers Avenue in North Charleston to Paul Cantrell Boulevard in West Ashley. The completion of the 526 extension from West Ashley to James and Johns islands remains in development hell

Across the state, 51 bridges are undergoing construction, while 70 miles of interstate work has been contracted. 

"Our roads and bridges have been neglected for three decades due to a shortfall in funding," says Christy Hall, SCDOT secretary. "Our 10-Year Plan is the guide we will use to recover and restore the state’s highway system to good levels."

But while the funding is there -- thanks in part to the penny gas tax -- the workers may not be. 
The construction industry in South Carolina is in need of workers to fill vacant posts -- from those in home building to road work. 

"Our industry never fully recovered from the economic downturn years ago," says Leslie B. Clark, director of South Carolina government relations for the Carolinas Association of General Contractors

Clark points out that many workers who lost their jobs during the Great Recession switched to other careers, abandoning the construction business.

With those workers out of the picture, it's been difficult attracting new ones now that the economic has improved. And the reasons are quite simple: the industry is physically demanding. 

"It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s weekend work. It’s long hours. It’s the kind of jobs that are not made out for everybody," Clark says. She also notes that the industry also faces a "momma problem" -- Everybody wants their kids to go to college.

However, Clark says, the construction industry accepts workers straight out of high school and pays them good wages from the start. 

"As an industry we have to do a better job of marketing the industry," she says.