By RICK BRUNDRETT
The slow pace of fixing South Carolina’s bad roads and bridges since the state gas tax was hiked more than three years ago could be tied in part to who’s doing the work and what other projects those companies are handling, records show.
The 10 highest-paid road contractors with gas-tax-hike revenues from July 1, 2017, through August of this year each received millions more over roughly the same period from the state Department of Transportation, The Nerve found in a review of DOT and state comptroller general records.
In short, some big contractors might be tied up at times with other projects in South Carolina that are not funded with gas-tax-hike money.
Take, for example, the top-paid contractor – C.R. Jackson Inc. – with gas-tax-hike revenues.
The company, which has offices in Columbia, Darlington and Conway, was paid a total of nearly $65 million in gas-tax-hike revenues from July 1, 2017, through last month, DOT records show. But since the 2017 law took effect, DOT has paid the firm a total of at least $168 million, according to comptroller general records.
C.R. Jackson on its website says it’s working on “rehabilitation” projects on a 26-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in the Orangeburg County area, and on a 20-mile section of Interstate 26 in Richland and Lexington counties. Those projects are not listed in DOT gas-tax payment records reviewed by The Nerve.
Following is a list of 10 road contractors that were paid a total of at least $23 million each out of gas-tax-hike revenues since July 1, 2017, through last month, followed by the overall amounts paid by DOT to those companies over the past three fiscal years, according to DOT and comptroller general records. The fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year.
- C.R. Jackson Inc.: $64.9 million $168.3 million;
- Eurovia Atlantic Coast LLC: $58.9 million $87.7 million;
- Satterfield Construction Co.: $58.8 million $141.2 million;
- Palmetto Corp.: $58.5 million $223.9 million;
- Lynches River Contracting Inc.: $57.3 million $97.5 million;
- Rogers Group Inc.: $48.4 million $103.8 million;
- Banks Construction Co.: $36.4 million $122.7 million;
- King Asphalt Inc.: $33.7 million $66.5 million;
- Sloan Construction: $32.1 million $113.7 million;
- Slurry Pavers Inc.: $23.2 million $36.1 million
DOT records show that a total of $645.6 million was paid to all vendors with gas-tax-hike revenues through last month, which represented 46.4% of the $1.39 billion in collected revenues during the 38-month period.
Of approximately 130 identified vendors in DOT records, 20 companies collectively received more than $606 million, or nearly 94%, of the total amount of payments over the period, The Nerve’s review found.
As The Nerve has previously reported, DOT has been sitting on huge reserves in a special fund, known as the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund, which was created with the gas-tax-hike law. As of Aug. 31, the fund had a cash balance of more than $617 million, which represented 44.3% of total deposits, according to DOT records.
The state as of the end of August had collected enough money to cover 96% of the $1.44 billion in project “commitments” statewide identified by DOT. But as The Nerve has pointed out, those projects represent a small portion of state-maintained roads and bridges that DOT says needs to be fixed or replaced.
As of Aug. 31, DOT had identified a total of 3,646 miles of “pavements” projects statewide, which represents about 11% of the overall number of miles of state-maintained roads that the agency says needs to be resurfaced or rebuilt.
DOT has said 80% of the state’s approximately 42,000 miles of roads needs resurfacing or rebuilding, and identified 465 out of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced.
The Nerve’s latest review found that from July 1, 2017, through Aug. 31, the total dollar value of completed “pavements” projects statewide was $480.5 million, which represented less than half of DOT’s total estimated $1 billion cost of all such projects. The completion rate was about compared to the period ending July 31.
In passing the gas-tax-hike law, which raised the state gas tax 12 cents per gallon over six years and increased other vehicle taxes and fees, lawmakers promised the money would be used to fix the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges.
But of the $1.44 billion in total project “commitments” identified by DOT through Aug. 31, the agency earmarked about $258.6 million, or nearly 18% of the total, for interstate widenings – not repairing bad roads and bridges.
Last year, longtime state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who sits on the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) board, created a special Senate panel to study accelerating interstate expansion.
The South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, has contended the gas-tax-hike law was written in a way to allow DOT to to the STIB to pay off bond debts. The STIB over the years funneled several billion dollars to large construction projects in select counties.