By RICK BRUNDRETT
State Department of Transportation work crews patched about 43,000 potholes statewide from Jan. 10 to Feb. 3 during the agency’s heavily promoted “Pothole Blitz,” DOT head Christy Hall proudly reported last week.
“So a significant amount of work was done by our team,” Hall told DOT commissioners during Thursday’s commission meeting, adding, “Our districts deserve a lot of credit for recognizing that it was an issue and putting everything they had available to try to get caught up on some of those issues.”
Hall noted, however, the total number of filled potholes was an estimate “based on a calculation” by DOT’s engineering division – not an actual count. Leland Colvin, the agency’s deputy secretary for engineering, said during the meeting he had not yet done a county breakdown.
Hall also acknowledged that filling potholes, especially during “wet weather or winter months,” is “always intended to be a temporary repair.” She said roads with more than 20 percent of their area in need of patching are classified for reconstruction “from the foundation up.”
The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out that since a state law took effect July 1, 2017, hiking the state’s gas tax 12 cents per gallon over six years, and increasing other vehicle taxes and fees, relatively little has been spent to fix South Carolina’s crumbling road and bridges – despite promises by lawmakers that the revenues would be designated for those projects.
Of the nearly $505.7 million collected as of Dec. 31 – 18 months after the law took effect – about $63.7 million, or less than 13 percent of the total, was spent on “external” projects identified by DOT, records show. About $15 million, or nearly a quarter, of the total $61.4 million paid to road contractors went for “preservation” projects – not major repairs – a review last month by The Nerve found.
DOT has said 80 percent of the state’s approximately 42,000 miles of roads needs to be resurfaced or rebuilt, and identified 465 out of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced.
“As you know, the condition of the system is in very bad condition,” Hall told commissioners last week.
Yet The Nerve last month revealed, based on a DOT document presented at a road contractors’ conference in 2018, that the department plans to spend well more than a third of gas-tax-hike revenues projected to be collected by 2027 on widening or repaving interstates.
The South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, has contended that the gas-tax-hike law was written in a way to allow DOT to divert those revenues to pay bond debts of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which over the years funneled several billion dollars to large construction projects in select counties.
The Nerve on Feb. 19 – two days before Thursday’s DOT Commission meeting – submitted a state Freedom of Information Act request to DOT for a county breakdown of the total number of citizen requests during the agency’s “Pothole Blitz,” the number of potholes filled and total cost.
No records have been provided yet.
The estimated 43,000 potholes filled from Jan. 10 to Feb. 3 worked out to an average of about 935 potholes for each of the state’s 46 counties, though Hall said Thursday the numbers likely varied by county.
DOT announced in January it was launching the “Pothole Blitz” to repair what it claimed was a growing number of potholes statewide brought on by recent heavy rains. Local media statewide promoted it, as did the department and state lawmakers through social media.
The Nerve at the time revealed that the department had filled far fewer potholes over the past three fiscal years through calls to its Customer Service Center. Hall said Thursday there were 7,029 requests statewide during the “blitz,” compared to about 2,300 requests normally over the period.
Hall said DOT work crews patched about 330,000, 397,000 and 411,000 potholes statewide in fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively, adding, “We certainly are on track to date to meet or possibly be higher than the 411 (thousand).”
As with the recent “blitz” totals, though, Hall said the figures for the last three fiscal years were “calculated numbers, estimated numbers.” In its Jan. 15 story, The Nerve pointed out that if accurate, the 411,000 figure, which was cited in the agency’s fiscal 2018 annual report, worked out to an average of about 10 repaired potholes for every mile of state-maintained roads.
In a Jan. 16 open-records request, The Nerve asked DOT for a breakdown of the 411,000 potholes, including locations of the potholes, total repair costs by county, and number of DOT workers assigned by county to fix the holes.
No records have been provided yet.
Hannah Hill, senior policy analyst with the South Carolina Policy Council, contributed to this story. Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.
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