MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — From fixing “Malfunction Junction” near Columbia to making sure South Carolina’s ports can handle a new generation of mammoth cargo ships, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that federal help is key to improving the nation’s infrastructure.
Biden, visiting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, said infrastructure helped build the American nation but now the country is lagging behind the rest of the world.
“We have to invest in our roads, our bridges, our rails and our waterways,” Biden told an audience of about 100 people gathered at the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Wando-Welch terminal.
“Every day the United States transportation system moves 52 million tons of goods worth $46 billion dollars,” Biden said. “The irony is that the United States ranks 28th in the world — 28th in the world — in transportation infrastructure. The United States shouldn’t be 28th in the world in anything.”
Foxx is making a five-state tour to promote an Obama administration proposal to spend almost $500 billion over the next six years to fix the nation’s infrastructure. Biden joined him in South Carolina on Wednesday and will also attend an event with Foxx on Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
During a Wednesday stop at Owens Steel in Columbia, Foxx said congested roads and ports are adding to the costs for Owens and other companies.
One of the most congested highway interchanges in South Carolina is the so-called Malfunction Junction” northwest of Columbia where Interstates 20, 26, and 126 meet.
It is the busiest spot in the state, and transportation officials have said it will cost well over $500 million to untangle the looping ramps and merges that routinely cause rush-hour traffic jams.
Biden said there are many similar intersections in the nation and the infrastructure plan will provide money to help improve them.
“It will help us fix Malfunction Junction after all,” Biden said.
In Mount Pleasant, the Cabinet members discussed how a federal transportation grant of $11 million is helping the Ports Authority upgrade the Wando terminal wharfs to handle a new generation of larger container ships. Work on the $80 million project begins later this year.
Biden did not meet with reporters and did not mention politics in his remarks. But the visit by the potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender to South Carolina, which holds an early primary, was not lost on Republicans.
“Last week it was Iowa, this week it’s South Carolina. Looks like Vice President Biden has already begun his 2016 campaign - and is doing so on the taxpayers’ dime,” said a statement released by Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
It was Biden’s second visit to the South Carolina ports in the past year and a half. He visited in September 2013 to discuss the Charleston Harbor deepening project.
Associated Press Writer Jeffery Collins in Columbia contributed to this report.