Councilman wants to eliminate toll on I-185

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A Greenville County Councilman wants to get rid of the toll on Interstate 185, also known as the Southern Connector. The 16 mile roadway connects the Simpsonville and Mauldin areas to major roads in and out of Greenville. 

It costs $3.50 to travel the whole stretch. Greenville County Councilman Ennis Fant believes the toll is hindering business growth in the area. 

At a council meeting Tuesday night, he suggested eliminating the toll. 

The road is public, but it’s financed privately, through the toll. The debt on the road exceeds $200 million. The interest on it will continue to climb for decades, meaning the toll will need to be there for decades. Fant suggested asking taxpayers to pay off the road’s debt as a way to lift the toll. 

“That area really is the only part of Greenville County that’s left that that’s available for economic growth and expansion. A deterrent to that is the toll booth of $3.50 every time you travel it,” Fant said. 

The $3.50 goes toward the project’s debt, which stood at about $205 million in 2017, according to the Southern Connector’s financial report. The interest on the original bonds taken out to finance the project continues to climb. Southern Connector estimates the total cost of the bonds will come to more than $728 million, which would be paid of through 2051. 

The group behind the project, Connector 2000 Association, filed for bankruptcy in 2010, in the midst of the recession. Since then, it’s been restructured into a non-profit. Southern Connector spokesperson Tim Brett told 7 News the roadway is on track to meet its debts. 

“The traffic numbers are the highest they’ve ever been,” Brett said. ” We had a record year of revenue on 2018.”

Fant dosen’t want his constituents to wait decades for the debt to be paid. At a council meeting Tuesday night, he suggested asking South Carolina lawmakers to pitch in taxpayer dollars, from across the state and country, to pay for the majority of the current debt. He proposed the idea as a resolution to the Greenville County Council Tuesday. 

“The money that would be generated over time that goes to all these governmental entities would more than overwhelm the $160 million initial investment that was spent,” he said. 

Brett told 7 News he dosen’t expect state lawmakers to be receptive. 

“We understand the merits of Mr. Fant’s resolution, and we’ve talked to him about it,” Brett said. “We share the same support for economic development, especially in that part of the county. We’ll be surprised to see the DOT or South Carolina to take this seriously.”

In the end, Fant withdrew his resolution after another councilman suggested speaking with state and federal lawmakers about the idea before passing a resolution in support of it. Greenville County council members plan to meet with lawmakers about the proposal in the coming weeks. 

Fant said the county would have to raise property taxes by about $30 a year for all Greenville County residents to pay off the debt, which would be a non-starter. 
    

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