Holes still exist in DOT’s pothole numbers

June 11, 2021

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

The number of potholes that the S.C. Department of Transportation claims it patched statewide jumped by more than 300,000 over the last four fiscal years, according to agency annual reports.

The Nerve has reported that DOT’s annual numbers in recent years were merely estimates. But DOT now says the 678,984 potholes it filled during fiscal 2020 was an actual count, according to records provided by the agency under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Those records, however, don’t indicate how many of those holes were patched more than once. The Nerve’s latest review found numerous examples of filled potholes on the same stretch of road at different times during the fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2019, through last June 30.

DOT’s pothole-patching work is a maintenance program separate from the repaving and road reconstruction projects being paid for with revenues generated under the state gas-tax-hike law that took effect July 1, 2017. 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.

The next 2-cent-per-gallon increase takes effect July 1.

Lawmakers promised that gas-tax-hike revenues would be used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, though The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out the relatively slow pace of completed repaving and reconstruction projects, and the growing, massive surplus – nearly $856 million as of April 30 – generated with the additional revenues.

The Nerve’s latest review of DOT records found that the number of patched potholes statewide last fiscal year ranged from 70,765 in rural Williamsburg County – which worked to be more than two filled potholes for every resident – to 761 in McCormick County, another rural county.

There was no apparent correlation between a county’s population and the number of repaired potholes. Following is a list of 15 counties with the largest number of patched potholes in fiscal 2020, according to DOT records:

  • Williamsburg: 70,765
  • Lexington: 42,738
  • Florence: 32,662
  • Chesterfield: 29,401
  • Berkeley: 28,761
  • Lancaster: 28,660
  • York: 25,224
  • Horry: 25,163
  • Darlington: 24,244
  • Sumter: 21,137
  • Kershaw: 20,533
  • Chester: 19,567
  • Richland: 18,649
  • Clarendon: 17,503
  • Colleton: 17,193

In comparison, two of the state’s most-populated counties – Greenville and Charleston – had 12,877 and 5,839 filled potholes, respectively, in fiscal 2020, DOT records show. The average total number of patched potholes per county was 14,760, The Nerve’s review found.

The overall cost of patching the total 678,984 potholes last fiscal year was $17.4 million, which included agency labor and equipment expenses, as well as the cost of asphalt used to repair the holes, according to DOT records.

The number of filled potholes on listed stretches of state-maintained secondary, S.C. and U.S. highways ranged up to 500 per stretch – raising questions of whether locations with dozens of potholes should be designated for repaving or reconstruction, The Nerve’s review found. Most of the daily work reports involved locations with 10 or fewer potholes.

As The Nerve previously reported, DOT as of April 30 identified about 4,500 miles of “pavements” projects statewide, which represented only 13.3% of the approximately 33,600 miles of state-maintained roads that the agency says should be resurfaced or rebuilt.

The Nerve in April revealed that DOT had denied more than half of 4,325 pothole-damage claims filed by motorists from 2018 through last year. Of 20 claims seeking at least $10,000 in damages, all but three were denied, records showed.

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.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.

 

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