By RICK BRUNDRETT
Motorists in South Carolina are now paying 8 cents more per gallon since the state gas-tax-hike law took effect in July 2017 – and will face another collective 4-cent increase over the next two years.
But repairs to the state’s pothole-riddled roads still have been moving at a slow pace.
Newly released S.C. Department of Transportation records show that since July 1, 2017, through July 31 of this year, the total dollar value of completed “pavements” projects statewide was less than half of the total estimated cost of all such projects.
More than half of the state’s 46 counties fell below the 50% mark, including larger counties such as Lexington, Richland, Horry and Greenville, The Nerve’s latest review found.
And the state continues to sit on a huge surplus of gas-tax-hike revenues. As of July 31, a special fund created with the law had a cash balance of $604.2 million – 45.2% of the $1.3 billion in total collections since the law took effect, records show.
From June 30 to July 31, the total dollar amount of completed paving projects statewide rose by $27 million, though $18.2 million of that amount was in York County, which for unexplained reasons in DOT records had dropped to zero from May 31 to June 30, then was listed again at $18.2 million as of July 31.
Overall, the total dollar value of completed paving projects in the state’s 46 counties was $473.6 million as of July 31, or 47.2% of the estimated total $1 billion cost of all such projects.
The $1.3 billion in total collections as of the end of July could cover that $1 billion projected cost, plus another $153.2 million in estimated “rural road safety” projects, which include such things as widening shoulders and adding guardrails, according to DOT’s website.
In passing the gas-tax-hike law, which raised the state gas tax 12 cents per gallon over six years – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – plus increased other vehicle taxes and fees, lawmakers promised the money would be used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
The 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.
But as of July 31, the DOT had identified about 3,500 miles of “pavements” projects statewide, which represents only 10.4% of the total number of miles of state-maintained roads that the agency said need to be resurfaced or rebuilt.
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 the DOT to divert revenues to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) to pay off bond debts. The STIB over the years funneled several billion dollars to large construction projects in select counties.
Of the $1.4 billion in total project “commitments” statewide as of July 31, nearly $258.6 million, or 18% of the total, is designated for interstate widenings – not repairing bad roads or bridges, DOT records show. Last year, longtime state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who sits on the STIB board, created a special Senate panel to study accelerating interstate expansion.
Following is a list of counties in which the total dollar amount of completed “pavements” projects was less than 50% of the collective estimated cost of all such projects as of July 31, according to DOT records:
- Fairfield: $7.8 million (47%);
- McCormick: $3 million (46.4%);
- Greenville: $21.7 million (46%);
- Williamsburg: $9 million (45.5%);
- Saluda: $6.8 million (44%);
- Florence: $13.7 million (43.5%);
- Lexington: $15.6 million (42.9%);
- Richland: $15 million (42.8%);
- Bamberg: $4.1 million (42.1%);
- Barnwell: $4.9 million (39.7%);
- Union: $5.5 million (39.4%);
- Hampton: $3.9 million (38.9%);
- Marlboro: $4.7 million; (38.9%);
- Allendale: $3 million (37.1%);
- Abbeville: $5 million (36.9%);
- Horry: $25.7 million (36%);
- Kershaw: $5.2 million (34.5%);
- Oconee: $8.1 million (33.5%);
- Aiken: $8.6 million (32.2%);
- Anderson: $14 million (29.7%);
- Darlington: $4.8 million (28.7%);
- Lee: $2.3 million (27.3%);
- Newberry: $4.2 million (22.3%);
- Pickens: $5.5 million (22%);
- Georgetown: $2.7 million (9.9%)
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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