Times and Democrat. January 8, 2023.
Editorial: Improving interstates vital for SC
Perhaps the public perception is “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but highway projects announced in 2022 represent major infrastructure improvements for South Carolina that are vital to development, commerce and highway safety.
The S.C. Department of Transportation is using roughly $600 million approved by legislators for widening of rural stretches of interstates 26 and 95.
The money comes from $453.5 million in federal COVID aid the General Assembly designated to roadwork in a law signed by Gov. Henry McMaster, plus $133.6 million lawmakers allocated to rural interstates in 2022-23. In total the General Assembly has approved spending nearly $2 billion on the widening of I-26.
Veteran Lexington County state Sen. Nikki Setzler, a member of the joint legislative committee approving use of the federal money, said, “We are making a difference in infrastructure in South Carolina. Ten years from now, you’re not going to recognize the infrastructure in this state with the improvements being made.”
Setzler has reason to be excited about the plans. Lexington joins Orangeburg, Calhoun, Dorchester and Berkeley counties in being home to rural stretches of I-26 that are a dangerous four-lane bottleneck moving west from Charleston’s multiple lanes and east from Columbia’s wider highway.
S.C. Secretary of Transportation Christy A. Hall has said the state will likely begin soliciting bids at the end of 2023 for a portion of the project to improve I-26 from Columbia. The first part of the project will cover seven miles between the Jedburg exit and S.C. Highway 27.
I-26 was built 60 years ago and today carries 22 million vehicles per year, including about 7 million trucks. “That number has grown by more than 30% in just the past decade alone,” Hall said.
Also, the first 33 miles on Interstate 95 in the Lowcountry should be six lanes total by 2030.
Northbound interstate 95 is a big problem. One of the nation’s busiest roads is three lanes in Georgia, but bottlenecks as travelers approach the South Carolina state line. The interstate will be widened to six lanes between the Georgia state line and Yemassee.
A second phase of the project would widen northbound interstate 95 to the Point South Exit. This will cover every entry point into Beaufort County.
Not to be forgotten are two projects vital to making I-26 and I-95 widening as effective as it must be: Constructing a new interchange at I-26 and I-95 and replacing the I-95 bridges over Lake Marion.
McMaster has said the I-26/Interstate 95 interchange in Orangeburg County is a priority. Plans call for realignment to allow traffic to flow better from one interstate to the other.
SCDOT this past year made a push for federal funds to replace the two, two-lane bridges over the lake. SCDOT estimates construction will begin in 2024 at a cost of $322 million.
This project will replace the existing, structurally deficient bridges and road approaches with new infrastructure that will accommodate three lanes in each direction. The current I-95 bridge over Lake Marion was built in 1968.
Approximately 38,900 vehicles, including freight, travel over the bridge daily. Replacement of the bridges is part of SCDOT’s 2021–27 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
South Carolina is a growing state aggressively seeking development in tourism and industry. Success will not come without modern transportation infrastructure. The current plans for I-95 and I-26 are certainly no end-all for those two major highways, but making the designated improvements will be a major step forward.
Post and Courier. January 11, 2023.
Editorial: Don’t appeal SC congressional redistricting order. Just fix the problem.
Republicans are vowing to appeal Friday’s federal court order declaring South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and ordering the Legislature to redraw it. They shouldn’t.
The problem isn’t that they’re certain to lose the appeal; for all we know, they might win. Nor is the problem that we believe that our legislators set out to disenfranchise black voters. We’re not convinced that was their motivation at all. But it’s clear that they did, and in the process, they also disenfranchised a lot of white voters.
The way redistricting works in our state and across the country is that the party in charge spreads its supporters out so there are just enough of them in as many districts as possible to ensure a win, while simultaneously cramming as many of the other party’s supporters as possible into the smallest number of districts possible. This is what we refer to as political gerrymandering, and it results in the majority party winning far more seats than it should based on the portion of the voters who support it.
The process is accomplished by cobbling together census blocks — little boxes on a map that represent a few dozen people each — with the help of ever-more-sophisticated computer mapping software and ever-more-detailed voter behavior information based on how often we vote, which primaries we vote in and our income, race, age and all sorts of other census data.
This inevitably takes on a racial tinge in South Carolina because race serves as such a close proxy for party preference. Indeed, legislators would likely produce much the same configurations if they were able to use voters’ party preferences instead of race — and judges might well declare the resulting maps constitutional, since it’s the use of race that crosses a constitutional line. But they don’t have that information in South Carolina because we don’t register to vote by party (and thank goodness we don’t, given the awful place that eventually leads).
We believe that this use of race as proxy for party is the main reason that, with the exception of the post-2010-Census round, it’s hard to remember a time when South Carolina’s U.S. House, state Senate or state House districts haven’t been rejected by either the U.S. Justice Department or federal judges because they disenfranchised voters on the basis of race. And it’s why Republican legislators’ determination to make the 1st District so Republican that even Katie Arrington could get elected in it (and thank goodness Nancy Mace saw to it that she didn’t get a chance) resulted in the disenfranchisement of so many black and white voters in the adjacent 1st and 6th districts.
But the fact that our legislators didn’t set out to disenfranchise black voters because they are black doesn’t make it OK. To the contrary, we believe that — at least to the degree that this happens since the advent of modern mapping systems — the idea of legislators selecting their voters instead of giving voters the opportunity to select their legislators is inherently immoral.
This is why we have long urged the Legislature to turn the district-drawing process over to an independent redistricting commission whose recommendations it would have to accept or reject without modification. We’d still almost certainly end up with mostly Republicans in our congressional delegation and in our Legislature, but the gap might not be quite as large, and more importantly, its size would depend far more on the quality of the nominees. In those states that have done this, it has resulted in more races that are decided in November as opposed to what we have in South Carolina, where you can count on one or maybe two hands how many legislative seats are truly up for grabs.
Legislators will say they don’t have time to create such a process before the March 31 deadline a panel of three federal judges gave them to redraw the 1st District, but we’re confident the judges would give them an extension to do that, since that’s still a year from filing for the 2024 election. And if not, they still should go ahead and create that commission for redistricting after the 2030 census.
But whether they create a redistricting commission now or for 2030 or not at all, they should refrain from appealing the court order and instead follow a smart model of how to respond to a lawsuit involving racial gerrymandering: their own.
Last year, the Legislature agreed to settle a challenge to the S.C. House’s redistricting map, passing a plan in the final week of the regular session to redraw districts in Orangeburg, Richland, Kershaw, Dillon and Horry counties that critics said disenfranchised black voters. That action, the result of negotiations with the same plaintiffs who challenged the congressional map, came so late in the legislative session that it would have been easy for a handful of legislators to run out the clock on it. Instead, it passed the House 102-7 and the Senate 39-0.
The Index-Journal. January 11, 2023.
Editorial: Batter up!
More funding for education.
South Carolina’s fentanyl scourge.
Internet for rural areas and, especially, for public school students, including possibly equipping buses with internet so students can, ostensibly, do homework on the trip home.
Work force readiness and work force development.
Where to place charging stations for electric vehicles — EVs — and how to recoup costs of providing the electricity in much the same way as people currently pay at the pump for gas.
Kids with guns, and what to do about it.
Ignition interlock devices to curb the rate of DUI cases.
Meeting the state’s needs for better and more available mental health care.
These and more were among the top items panels of lawmakers shared in the Solomon Blatt building ahead of Tuesday’s launch of the Legislature’s new session.
A good list of priority items for our state’s lawmakers to work on this session? Most readers would likely say yes.
Ah, but what about that state Supreme Court ruling that just rolled out days ahead of the lawmakers’ return to Columbia? Won’t that take priority over all else? That, and maybe figuring out what the design and color of our state flag should be?
Some of the panelists who spoke with newspaper and broadcast media Monday say that while the abortion law ruling from the justices will surface, it won’t impede progress on other issues.
Sen. Shane Massey, the Republican majority leader from Edgefield County, went so far as to acknowledge that the abortion issue will be a curve ball tossed at lawmakers, it will not consume this session. Lawmakers, he said, will have a response sooner than later.
That, of course, remains to be seen. While we hope the senator’s assessment is correct, we do have to wonder if the topic will come at legislators more like one of those pitching machines used in baseball practice. Fast ball after fast ball. And all-consuming.