By RICK BRUNDRETT
In its latest annual report, the S.C. Department of Transportation claimed it patched about 679,300 potholes statewide during fiscal year 2020.
Based on those numbers, an average of 14,767 potholes were filled from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, in each of the state’s 46 counties, though the annual report, provided by DOT head Christy Hall in January to state Senate president Harvey Peeler and House speaker Jay Lucas, didn’t provide any county breakdowns.
The Nerve previously has pointed out that DOT’s patched-pothole numbers are merely estimates.
“Our task over the next 10 years and beyond is to repair and rebuild our transportation network to ensure that our citizens and businesses can travel on a safe and reliable system,” the latest annual report said. “This is a core function of government, and SCDOT is entrusted with the responsibility to effectively and efficiently utilize taxpayer funds to turn the status of the state-owned transportation network around.”
Yet a review by The Nerve of DOT’s latest gas-tax-hike records found that the agency continues to move slowly to fix South Carolina’s bad roads and bridges, while sitting on massive reserves generated by revenues that have been collected since July 1, 2017.
Through February, the cash balance in a special fund created with the gas-tax-hike law was more than $788 million, which represented 45% of the $1.74 billion in revenues collected since the 2017 law took effect. The surplus grew by nearly $36 million from Jan. 31 to Feb. 28, DOT and state comptroller general records show.
Last month, The Nerve revealed that the surplus in the “Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund” grew by nearly $252 million over a one-year period.
The law raised the state’s gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon over six years – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – plus raised other vehicle taxes and fees.
Lawmakers promised that the gas-tax-hike money would be used to fix the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges. DOT has said 80% of the approximately 42,000 miles of state roads needs resurfacing or rebuilding, and identified 465 of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced.
But The Nerve’s latest review found that that since the 2017 law took effect, the total dollar amount of completed “pavements” projects statewide remained less than half of the overall estimated cost of all such projects. Through February, a total of $576.3 million in “pavements” projects had been completed in the state’s 46 counties, which represented 44% of the $1.3 billion total estimated cost of all such projects.
The overall completion rate hasn’t changed much in recent months. The Nerve’s latest review found that 32 counties fell below the 50% completion rate as of Feb. 28, including the larger counties of Charleston (38.6%), Horry (48%), Lexington (39.9%) and Richland (37.9%).
Although DOT identified “pavements” projects totaling 4,474.5 miles statewide as of Feb. 28, the mileage represented just 13.3% of the number of miles of state-maintained roads that the agency says needs to be repaved or rebuilt.
DOT also plans to spend about $258.6 million of gas-tax-hike revenues on interstate widening projects – not fixing bad roads and bridges.
Longtime state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who sits on the State Transportation Instructure Bank (STIB) board, created a special Senate panel in 2019 to study accelerating interstate expansion. The STIB over the years funneled several billion dollars to large construction projects in select counties.
The South Carolina Policy Council, the parent organization of The Nerve, has contended the gas-tax-hike law was written in a way to divert revenues to the STIB to pay off bond debts.
Of the state’s 46 counties, Dillon County had the lowest completion rate involving “pavements” projects as of Feb. 28, with the total value of completed projects less than 15% of the overall estimated cost of all such projects in that county, The Nerve’s latest review found.
Eleven counties showed no change in their completion totals from Jan. 31 to Feb. 28, according to records.
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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