Few major road repair projects finished in first 23 months of gas-tax-hike law

June 26, 2019

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

If you’re wondering why pothole-riddled roads in your community haven’t been fixed despite paying more state taxes at the gas pump, you’re probably not alone.

In the first 23 months of the gas-tax-hike law, the S.C. Department of Transportation completed just under 10% of $655.5 million in identified “pavements” projects statewide, according to the agency’s latest records reviewed by The Nerve.

Major repaving or reconstruction projects made up no more than a third of the 87 completed road projects through May 31, The Nerve’s review found. Of 221 miles of completed work statewide, 146 miles, or 66 percent, were labeled solely as “preservation” projects, which, according to DOT’s website, include such things as “crack sealing” and “chip sealing.”

In 15 of the state’s 46 counties, “preservation” or “rural road safety” projects were the only completed jobs under the “pavements” category over the 23-month period, records show.

No “pavements” projects were completed with gas-tax-hike revenues in 12 counties, including Horry County, according to records. In another 18 counties, including Lexington and Spartanburg counties, less than 10 percent of the total miles of roads identified to be fixed was completed over the period, while no other county cracked the 50% mark.

Overall, 221 miles, or approximately 9.3%, of about 2,384 miles of identified “pavements” projects statewide were completed through May 31, which represented approximately $64.7 million, or about 9.9%, of the total $655.5 million in identified projects, The Nerve’s review found.

Including “rural road safety” projects, such as widening shoulders and adding guardrails, the total $71 million in completed jobs over the 23-month period represented about 7% of the $1 billion in road and bridge “commitments” statewide, records show. Nearly a quarter of the $1 billion is designated for interstate widenings.

The Nerve in January revealed DOT’s plans to widen interstates with gas-tax-hike revenues and reported last month that the agency might not hit its 10-year targets for road and bridge work at the current rate of completed projects.

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 – and increased other vehicle taxes and fees, lawmakers promised that the money would go toward fixing crumbing roads and bridges in their constituents’ communities. The next 2-cent hike takes effect Monday.

DOT has said 80 percent 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 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 divert revenues to pay bond debts of the legislatively controlled State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which funneled several billion dollars over the years to large construction projects in select counties.

For now, the state continues to sit on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues collected under the law, which took effect July 1, 2017. DOT records show that through the end of May, the cash balance in a special fund created with the gas-tax-hike law was $481.7 million, or nearly 69 percent of the total $700.4 million in total collected revenues since the law took effect.

Expenses through May 31 included $171.3 million in vendor payments, $34.6 million in transfers to legislatively controlled county transportation committees (CTCs) for county roads, and $12.7 million in transfers to the state Department of Revenue to help cover the cost of gas tax credits created under the 2017 law, records show.

DOT plans to add $15 million annually to a separate 10-year, $1.51 billion bridge-replacement program, though not until 2024 after the gas tax credit expires. The Nerve earlier this month revealed that DOT had replaced no bad bridges with gas-tax-hike revenues and completed relatively few bridge projects in recent years with other revenues.

Following are the 20 counties with the largest total dollar amount of completed road “pavements” projects through May 31, according to DOT records:

  • Greenville: $5,828,302
  • Berkeley: $5,581,878
  • Sumter: $5,392,372
  • Anderson: $5,304,571
  • Marion: $4,473,229
  • Pickens: $4,054,266
  • Jasper: $3,841,025
  • York: $3,547,632
  • Dillon: $3,293,792
  • Kershaw: $2,806,046
  • Richland: $2,634,760
  • Marlboro: $2,576,118
  • Darlington: $2,380,368
  • Dorchester: $2,035,996
  • Aiken: $1,538,835
  • Lee: $1,419,122
  • Orangeburg: $1,299,035
  • Charleston: $1,227,320
  • Union: $935,029
  • Lexington: $907,760

The following 12 counties had no completed “pavements” projects through May 31: Beaufort, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chester, Clarendon, Colleton, Fairfield, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Oconee and Williamsburg.

Editor’s Note: The South Carolina Policy Council has launched “Project Road Repair” to encourage citizens to contact their lawmakers about getting their bad roads fixed. To learn more about the project, go here.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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