SCDOT says it will fix nearly 1,000 more miles of bad roads. More empty promises?
By RICK BRUNDRETT
Motorists likely will feel plenty of bumps this Memorial Day weekend as they drive over South Carolina’s seemingly endless pothole-riddled roads.
Since the state gas-tax-hike law took effect nearly four years ago, The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out the S.C. Department of Transportation’s relatively slow pace of completing paving projects while sitting on massive reserves generated with the extra revenues.
Now, the agency is proposing a “Pavement Improvement Program” for fiscal 2021-22, which calls for an additional 683 repaving or reconstruction projects statewide totaling about 977 miles. Last week, the DOT Commission approved a 21-day public comment period on the proposal.
The total cost to fix the additional highways, “farm-to-market” roads and neighborhood streets maintained by DOT is estimated at $472 million, according to an agency release. It’s unclear whether all of the identified projects, which the agency ranked in priority by county and road type, will be completed in the fiscal year that starts July 1 – especially given the current completion rate of other road projects.
DOT’s latest proposal represents a small percentage of the approximately 33,600 miles of roads statewide that the agency has said need to be repaved or rebuilt. In addition, DOT has identified 465 of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges in the state to be replaced.
In passing the gas-tax-hike law that took effect July 1, 2017, lawmakers promised that the money would be used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The law raised the state’s gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon over six years – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – and increased other vehicle taxes and fees.
On July 1, the gas tax will go up another 2 cents per gallon, or a total of 10 cents since the law took effect.
As of April 30, the state had collected $1.85 billion in revenues under the gas-tax-hike law – $85.2 million more than the total value of all project “commitments” statewide identified by DOT, according to agency records.
The cash balance in a special state fund created with the law was nearly $856 million at the end of April, an increase of $32 million, or about 4%, from the previous month. The surplus represented 46.2% of total deposits since the law took effect through April 30.
Meanwhile, The Nerve’s latest review of DOT records found that from July 1, 2017, through April of this year, the total value of completed “pavements” projects statewide was $604 million, or 46.3% of the $1.3 billion estimated cost of all such projects.
Thirty of the state’s 46 counties fell below the 50% completion rate, including the larger counties of Horry (48%), Charleston (44.6%), Lexington (41.8%) and Richland (38.9%). Half of the counties showed no changes from the March 31 to April 30, The Nerve’s review found.
As of April 30, DOT identified 4,482 miles of “pavements” projects statewide, which represents only 13.3% of the approximately 33,600 miles of roads that the agency says should be resurfaced or rebuilt.
Yet the agency plans to spend nearly $272 million in gas-tax-hike revenues on interstate widening projects – not fixing existing bad roads and bridges. The amount designated for interstate widenings – 15.4% of the total $1.76 billion in project “commitments” statewide identified by DOT as of April 30 – grew by $3 million from the previous month, records show.
The Nerve’s review of DOT’s proposed “Pavement Improvement Program” (PIP) projects for next fiscal year found that the number of additional planned repaving or reconstruction projects range from three in Oconee County to 61 in Orangeburg County. The total number of affected miles range from about eight miles in Beaufort County to more than 47 miles in Richland County.
Following are the 10 counties with the highest number of additional road miles that would be resurfaced or rebuilt under the PIP, DOT records show:
- Richland: 47.5
- Horry: 43.8
- Aiken: 42.8
- Orangeburg: 40.9
- Spartanburg: 36.2
- Lexington: 35.2
- Greenville: 33.9
- Anderson: 31.2
- Florence: 30.4
- Laurens: 29
In the meantime, motorists whose vehicles are damaged by potholes on state-maintained roads can file claims with DOT. But as The Nerve last month revealed, the agency over the past three years denied more than half of the 4,325 pothole-damage claims filed statewide, typically contending it’s not liable if it didn’t know about the pothole beforehand.
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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