Roadside Hardware

South Carolina Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Interstate System

Jun 2, 2006

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Interstate System Friday, June 2, in Columbia with a celebration and news conference.

Speakers included Executive Director Elizabeth S. Mabry; Bob Thomas, of the Federal Highway Administration; Adjutant General Stan Spears; South Carolina Representative Ronny Townsend; South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Joe E. Taylor; South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Jim Schweitzer; and Marion Edmonds of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act on June 29, 1956, creating the Highway Trust Fund. Since that time, interstates have become our social and commercial lifeline.

The news conference was held in front of SCDOT Headquarters, where a large number of vehicles, representing users of the interstate, were on display.

Speakers at the news conference noted the importance of the interstate system in South Carolina in terms of benefits it provides to the tourism industry, economic development, hurricane evacuation and quality of life for residents.

“In South Carolina, the construction of the interstate system remains a proud chapter in the history of the South Carolina Department of Transportation,” Mabry said. “Countless employees contributed to the construction of these interstates.”

"The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways may be the greatest public works project in history and is the backbone of economic development and tourism,” said Bob Thomas, Assistant Division Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, South Carolina Division.

A concurrent resolution passed by the General Assembly noted that that, “South Carolinians have many reasons to celebrate the anniversary of the interstate highway system. Travel and tourism is our state's number one industry. Our state's economy is strong and getting stronger. Industries from all over the world are looking to our State as

a possible location. Without the 844 miles of interstate highways which serve our global economy well and which carry twenty-seven percent of all traffic through our State, our economic prospects would be far less promising…”

Mabry addressed the retired highway workers who attend the event, saying, “I am so proud of people who had a hand in building our interstate system.”

“The good news is the interstates you built are serving motorists – there is no doubt about that,” she said. “Each day in South Carolina, as many as 815,000 motorists use the interstates.”

In 2004, there were 13 billion miles traveled by vehicles on the interstates South Carolina, Mabry said. “It is hard to imagine a distance so large, but it is equivalent to taking a trip from Columbia to Los Angeles 4 million times or traveling around the globe over a half-million times,” she said.

“Of course, we must all realize that usage puts much stress the interstate system,” Mabry said.

“The interstate highways belong to all of us. Just as homeowners must take care of the upkeep of their homes, all of us have a stake in taking care of our interstates. They are a huge investment. If we were to build such a massive system of highways today, it could cost as much as $30 billion.”

Maintenance has a cost, however.

This year, SCDOT has $85 million to $90 million available for maintenance and capacity improvements to the state’s interstate highways. But reconstructing just one interchange could cost as much as $35 million in urban areas and $25-30 million in rural areas; widening the interstates costs $8-10 million per mile.

“As you can see, the state’s needs greatly outweigh its funding,” Mabry said. “As you know, we are still operating on user fees that have stayed at the same rate for nearly 20 years.”

The funds for maintenance and capacity improvements are currently divided among many needs such as interstate resurfacing; drainage improvements; shoulder improvements; cable barriers that prevent crossover crashes; and Intelligent Transportation Systems (the electronic message boards, cameras, etc.) that help with traffic delays.

Traffic projections show that more than 500 miles of South Carolina’s interstate highways are expected to exceed capacity and need to be widened by the year 2022. The estimated cost of needed improvements to the interstate system in South Carolina through the year 2022 (in today’s dollars) is over $7 billion.

“Despite these many challenges, I remain hopeful about the future of transportation in South Carolina,” Mabry said. “With help from our Congressional and State leaders and our many other partners, we are moving forward with plans for South Carolina’s next interstate, I-73. This interstate will be a critical new hurricane evacuation route as well as an important link in improving travel to a vital tourist region.”

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