June 3, 2023

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

Tens of Thousands Spent on Sign Namings

The NerveSince 2006, South Carolina has spent at least $60,000 on highway and other structure signs named after state lawmakers or other individuals, The Nerve found in a review of state transportation records.

In the vast majority of the 132 projects, counties were forced to pay a flat $500 fee per project to the S.C. Department of Transportation under a state law that requires the agency to be reimbursed for expenses up to $500 when the projects are authorized by the S.C. General Assembly, a department official said.

Last year, the Legislature approved 34 projects, department records show.

By law, the fee money comes out of a portion of the state gasoline tax that goes to counties for road projects.

The Nerve obtained a list of the 132 projects from the Department of Transportation under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

South Carolina lawmakers have not been shy about ordering signs named after current or former General Assembly members. The Nerve’s review found at least 13 such projects within the past five years, including six last year.

And despite facing a state budget hole next fiscal year now projected to be about $700 million, there seems to be no slowing of bills introduced by lawmakers for more signs.

In this legislative session alone, at least six concurrent resolutions, which don’t require the governor’s approval, have been introduced.

The latest resolution (H. 3601), filed last Tuesday by Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, seeks to  name a stretch of Interstate 77 through Fairfield County after former Democratic U.S. Congressman John Spratt of York County. Brown was an intern in Spratt’s office in 2006, according to the S.C. Legislative Manual.

Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, who prefiled a concurrent resolution (H. 3256) in December to name a Founding Island Road landing in Beaufort County the “William F. Marscher II Memorial Landing,”  defended his bill when contacted last week by The Nerve.

“It incentivizes other citizens to make an effort to get involved,” Herbkersman said, noting that Marscher was a longtime Lowcountry environmentalist. “It’s just money well spent.”

While Herbkersman acknowledged that “there’s a cost to all of it,” he said the value of the volunteer work performed by the late Marscher over approximately 40 years far exceeds the cost of the signs.

“When you look at what this guy has given … it’s (the sign cost) simply a drop in the bucket,” he said.

The $500 fee paid by counties includes materials and labor involved in the erection of the signs and maintenance afterward, though it does not cover replacement costs after the sign wears out, DOT spokesman Pete Poore told The Nerve last week in a written response to questions.

The average life of an honorary sign is 10 years, he said.

Dana Ammer, the DOT’s Freedom of Information officer, told The Nerve in a written response to The Nerve’s FOIA request that the $500 fee is an average, explaining that costs vary per project with the number and size of signs for each site.

Interstate signs, for example, typically are larger than secondary road signs; and intersections usually require more signs than bridges, she said.

The $500 fee does not cover costs of the dedication ceremony itself, such as rental of a facility or refreshments, Ammer said, adding:  “The DOT does not participate in every dedication ceremony. Some are handled by the families, and some are handled at the county level, and some don’t want a ceremony at all.”

Contacted last week, state Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, told The Nerve last week that the $500 fee is “probably 10 to 20 percent” of the total cost of a project when maintenance and replacement costs are included.

Toole introduced a bill (H. 3355) in January that would ban the DOT from being reimbursed with public funds unless the “highway facility is dedicated and named in honor of either a serviceman, law enforcement officer or fireman killed in the line of duty.”

He introduced a similar bill in the 2009 session, which passed the House, though it died in the Senate Transportation Committee.

“It makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Toole told The Nerve last week. “It’s a poor use of taxpayer money.”

Still, Toole is among 117 co-sponsors of a concurrent resolution (H. 3302), introduced in January by Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, that would name part of National Guard Road in Richland County in honor of Stan Spears, the state’s immediate past adjutant general.

Toole also is a member of the Lexington County legislative delegation, which, according to Poore, last year asked the seven-member S.C. Transportation Commission to name the interchange at interstates 77 and 26 after Andre Bauer, a former state lawmaker and  immediate past lieutenant governor.

Although most signs are ordered by the Legislature through concurrent resolutions, delegations can make requests directly to the commission, which governs the Department of Transportation. Besides Bauer’s project, the commission last year approved a request from the Richland County delegation to name an S.C. 277 interchange after Elliott E. Franks III, a civil rights activist who died in 2008, Poore said.

Two signs for Bauer cost $442, though that figure did not include the cost of preparing dedication ceremony programs and a DOT representative to attend the ceremony, Ammer said.

Toole declined to discuss details of his involvement with the Bauer signs, saying only, “There were a lot of people who had reservations about doing that, and there were a couple of people pushing it, but I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus.”

As for naming part of a Richland County road after Spears, Toole jokingly said, “I didn’t know my name even ended up on it (the concurrent resolution) until after it was done,” and that he thought the resolution was “strictly ceremonial.”

The resolution, however, calls for “appropriate markets and signs along this road that contain the words ‘Stan Spears Drive.’”

In a written response last week to The Nerve, Smith, the bill’s main sponsor, said his resolution is “an effort to say thank you for over 50 years of military service … and to express the appreciation of the people of SC.” He added that given Spears’ “football history at USC, the location of the road makes it fitting in other aspects as well.”

National Guard Road is located near USC’s Williams-Brice football stadium.

The Nerve’s review found that the vast majority of signs were authorized for highways, interchanges and bridges. But signs also were ordered for such things as bike lanes, a walkway and a maintenance building.

Charleston County led all counties with at least 13 projects over the five-year period, followed by Spartanburg (at least nine); Greenville (at least nine); and Richland, Sumter and Horry counties (at least eight each).

Charleston County spokeswoman Jennie Flinn in a written response last week to The Nerve said the county has “not incurred any additional expense for these signs, which are installed by SCDOT crews.” She did not address The Nerve’s questions about whether the county agreed with having to pay for the signs.

Besides the 13 current or former state lawmakers, other roadways or structures were named after a variety of individuals with South Carolina connections, including U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke; Bill Pinkney and the Original Drifters, a pioneer rhythm and blues group; and Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. president, The Nerve’s review of the five-year period found.

At least 28 projects honor S.C. soldiers, police officers or firefighters.

Following is a list of roadways or structures named after current or former state lawmakers since 2006, according to DOT records:

  • Sen. Frank Gilbert, interchange at Exit 169, I- 95, Florence County, 2006;
  • Sen. Billy O’Dell*, U.S. 25/S.C. 252 Ware Shoals bridge, 2006;
  • Rep. Mack Hines, portion of U.S. 76, Marion County, 2006;
  • Rep. Jewell McLaurin, portion of S.C. 57, Dillon County, 2007;
  • Sen. Linda Short, interchange at Exit 65, I-77, Chester County, 2008;
  • Sen. John Land*, portion of U.S. 521, Clarendon County, 2008;
  • Sen. John Martin, interchange at Exit 34, I-77, Fairfield County, 2009;
  • Rep. Thomas Rhoad, portion of U.S. 78, Bamberg County, 2010;
  • Sen. Nikki Setzler*, interchange at U.S. 378 and I-26, Lexington County, 2010;
  • Rep. Arthur Lindsay Black, portion of S.C. 5, York County, 2010;
  • Rep. Doug Jennings, portion of S.C. 38, Marlboro County, 2010;
  • Rep.Lanny Littlejohn, intersection of U.S. 29 and Zion High Road, Spartanburg County, 2010;
  • Sen./Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, interchange at I-77 and I-26, Lexington County, 2010.

*currently serving

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