By RICK BRUNDRETT
Major repaving or road reconstruction projects in South Carolina could take on average at least a year and possibly more than two years to complete, The Nerve found in a review of state Department of Transportation records.
But it’s unclear exactly how long it takes to finish road projects funded with gas-tax-hike revenues, given that DOT’s publicly available records are incomplete.
Meanwhile, DOT continues to sit on hundreds of millions of dollars generated under the gas-tax-hike law that took effect July 1, 2017. As of Aug. 31, the cash balance in a special fund created with the law was $869.7 million, or 42.4% of the $2.05 billion in revenues collected since 2017, according to DOT and state comptroller general records.
Through August, the state had collected nearly $80 million more than the total estimated cost of all “project commitments” identified by DOT, agency records show.
In passing the gas-tax-hike law, lawmakers promised that the money would be used to fix the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges. The law raised the state 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.
DOT has said that 80% of the state’s approximately 42,000 miles of roads need to be repaved or rebuilt, and identified 465 out of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced.
As of Aug. 31, DOT had identified 4,989 miles of “pavements” projects statewide to be funded with gas-tax-hike revenues, though that number represents less than 15% of the overall number of miles of roads that the agency says have to be resurfaced or reconstructed.
The Nerve earlier this month reported that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s roads a “D” grade in its annual infrastructure report card, and also revealed that since 2016, DOT has awarded 56 bridge contracts to a company with ties to Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence – one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers.
The Nerve this year repeatedly has pointed out, based on reviews of monthly DOT reports, that the total value of finished repaving or reconstruction projects in the state’s 46 counties has been less than 50% of the estimated cost of all such projects funded with gas-tax-hike revenues.
In its latest review, The Nerve submitted a state Freedom of Information Act request to DOT last month for actual or estimated start and end dates for every road project identified in its June report.
DOT didn’t provide any internal records but instead directed The Nerve to an obscure link on its website listing road projects that began or were scheduled to begin starting in 2016 through this year. The Nerve focused on 605 road resurfacing,“rehabilitation” or reconstruction projects listed on the site as of Aug. 26.
The agency’s website describes reconstruction as the “complete removal and replacement of the existing pavement structure,” while “rehabilitation” projects “extend the life of existing pavement structures” through the “removal and replacement of deteriorated pavement surface or by increasing pavement thickness.”
Of the 605 road projects listed on the DOT site as of Aug. 26, 191, or nearly a third of the total, had no estimated completion dates. The 414 projects with estimated completion dates totaled more than 600 miles, though that number represented only about 12% of the total miles of “pavements” projects identified in DOT’s August gas-tax-hike report.
The DOT website lists only the year when construction actually started or was estimated to start for the 414 projects with estimated completion dates. Given that, The Nerve estimated a range of the total number of construction weeks for each project using Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 for each start year.
Under that method, the average estimated construction time based on Jan. 1 of the start year was about 116 weeks, or 2.2 years; based on Dec. 31 of the start year, the average estimated time was approximately 65 weeks, or 1.2 years. Listed road lengths of projects ranged up to about 9 miles; the average was about 1.5 miles.
Newberry County led all counties on the DOT site with the highest number (18) of repaving or reconstruction projects since 2016 with estimated completion dates, followed by Horry (17), York (16), Lexington (14), Dillon and Richland (13 each), and Orangeburg, Sumter and Florence (12 each) counties, The Nerve’s review found.
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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