Joe Biden, Our Port, and the Infrastructural Future of South Carolina

In mid-February, Vice President Joe Biden came through South Carolina – stopping in Charleston and Columbia – on the “Grow America” tour, designed to highlight infrastructural needs nationwide. Infrastructure is the little discussed, incredibly important series of resources that keep our nation afloat. Roads, bridges, airports, landfills, sewer systems, railroads, utilities, and ports like the one in my hometown all fit the bill.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure in the United States is crumbling. Our infrastructure report card from 2013 gave the nation an overall score of D+. Politicians are starting to get on board, and that’s what brought the VP to our neck of the woods. Here’s how it went.

In Charleston

Charleston generally has the same kind of infrastructural needs as an any mid-sized city, but our port and bridges play a larger role than in most. Should those become too inefficient or too unsafe, it could pose serious problems. Biden touted the Port of Charleston and commented on its importance. He remarked that “you generate $45 billion in economic impact and your port is responsible for 260,000 jobs in South Carolina. That is a big deal.”

Still, he commented upon the size of the load, saying that we’re stuffing 20 pounds of work into a 10 pound sack. We could use improvements. After all, if the Port of Charleston is going to do so much good for our region, we should take care of it.

In Columbia

On the other side of the state, Biden had more to say but less of it was related to the infrastructure of the area.  The biggest concern for Columbia’s politicians, the “malfunction junction” at the intersection of Interstates 20 and 26, did earn some time, however.

Requiring what would amount to a $700 billion repair cost, the malfunction junction is just not big enough. “Lanes designed to carry 10-20 cars per mile now handle up to 40 cars per mile,” Biden observed.

He also engaged in a few imitations and cracked a few jokes, but they’re beside the point.

Importance for the state/region

You may wonder why Biden elected to spend time in South Carolina, or even the South at all, with a whole nation full of substandard infrastructure. “As we project out over the next 30 years,” Biden explained, “our nations is going to grow by 70 million people. Many of those people are going to be moving to the South.”

The current infrastructure needs of our cities may not rival those of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, as far as residential services are concerned, but they’re sizable economically. If Biden is right, our cities are set to bloat with new residents in the coming decades. Not to mention the fact that they’re terribly important to those of us who already live here.

The present administration recently proposed a $500 billion bill to begin tackling a limited portion of our infrastructural needs. Although that price tag is incomprehensively large to most of us, it’s a tiny sliver of the $3.6 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers predicts we’ll need to invest by 2020. The good news is that despite our D+ grade, we do not need infrastructural improvements as immediately as one may think. Hopefully the time in the interim is well spent.

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