By Barney Blakeney
As South Carolina begins spending the money it will receive from a new gas tax and vehicle fee implemented July 1, the question of how much it will benefit Black Business remains just that, a question. South Carolina Department of Transportation commissioners last week voted to begin projects funded by the new financial resource. The agency will spend $26 million to repave roads in counties across the state.
Arlene Prince at the DOT provided some information. South Carolina’s state highway system is the nation’s fourth largest with some 41,000 miles of roads – 21,000 miles are neighborhood streets. The state’s highways also are the nation’s deadliest. The Task of rebuilding that system is massive and is estimated to cost over $1 billion annually over the next 25 years. Some 80 percent of the state’s roads need to be repaved and the state is about 10 years behind on widening projects. That should keep a lot of people busy for a long time. But are Black owned businesses positioned to take advantage of the opportunity? DOT has a plan to help.
The agency has created a strategic plan that includes increasing the number of companies capable of bidding on projects. The plan is to enhance the number of small businesses ready to do business through assistance from the state’s Minority Business Affairs Division. Over the next three years the agency will serve a minimum 125 firms. Additionally DOT hopes to beef up a trained and developed workforce through outsourcing some tasks. The Small & Minority Business and Human Resources division will be tasked with some training responsibilities.
The money to fund the projects will come incrementally as gas taxes increase two cents per year over the next six years. That will allow contractors and the workforce to grow also. In the Lowcountry 54 bridges will be replaced, safety features will be added to 18 deadly corridors and numerous interchanges will be improved. Not all the financial benefits are tied to actual construction. Material supplier opportunities also will become available.
DOT’s contract awards and commitments to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises since 2013 have totaled about $200 million. The share of the pie derived from projects initiated through gas tax revenues is expected to get larger. Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown said, “It’s a tax and we’ll feel the pinch, but it’s also an opportunity for minority owned businesses who can participate in the increased activity.”