No significant road projects completed in 26 S.C. counties, despite gas tax hike

May 3, 2019

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Through March, the S.C. Department of Transportation had completed no road reconstruction or significant repaving projects in more than half of the state’s counties with revenues generated under the gas-tax-hike law that took effect nearly two years ago, newly released DOT records show.

The balance in the state “Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund” as of March 31 was $466.7 million, nearly 76% of the $615.2 million in total revenues collected since the law took effect July 1, 2017. The amount of unspent funds has grown by more than 56 percent since the state gas tax rose another 2 cents per gallon last July 1, according to DOT and state comptroller general records.

In passing the gas-tax-hike law, which raised the gas tax 12 cents over six years and increased other vehicle taxes and fees, lawmakers promised that the revenues would be used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. 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.

But The Nerve’s review of the latest DOT records found that through March 31, there were no completed “pavements” projects in 26 of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Overall, about 102. 5 miles, or 4.4%, of 2,305 miles of identified “pavements” projects had been completed.

DOT has identified just over $1 billion in road and bridge work statewide – nearly a quarter of which is designated as interstate widenings. The agency revamped its website to clearly acknowledge its interstate plans after The Nerve revealed in January, citing a 2018 DOT document presented at a road contractors’ conference, that it was planning to spend well more than a third of projected revenues by 2027 on widening or repaving interstates.

Meanwhile, state senators are trying to fast-track a bill introduced last week that would allow DOT to impose tolls to finance any type of road project, while the Senate version of the proposed state budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, would allow a toll on a stretch of I-95 in Orangeburg and Clarendon counties.

Of the $1 billion in road and bridge projects identified by DOT, “completed” projects through March made up $43.7 million, or about 4.4% of the total, agency records show. Another $882.6 million and $75.2 million in listed projects were categorized as being in the “construction” and “development” phases, respectively.

Vendor payments through March totaled $101.1 million, or about 16.5% of the $615.2 million in total revenues collected under the gas-tax-hike law.

The Nerve’s review found that of the $101.1 million spent, $22.5 million was for “preservation” projects, which include such things as “chip sealing” and “crack sealing,” according to DOT’s website. Another $12.2 million was spent on “safety improvement” projects; DOT’s “Rural Roads Safety Program” includes such things as adding guardrails and rumble strips, and widening shoulders.

Most of the total – $60 million – was spent for “rehabilitation” projects, defined by DOT as the “removal or replacement of deteriorated pavement surface,” or the increasing of “pavement thickness to strengthen existing pavement sections.”

Only about $3.5 million of the total was spent on “reconstruction,” records show.

Following is a breakdown of the overall amounts spent in each county through March 31, followed by the total number of “completed” miles of roads through that date, according to DOT records:

  • Abbeville: $475,041             0.98
  • Aiken: $4,229,180                5.29
  • Allendale: $491,854                 0
  • Anderson: $2,966,431         7.44
  • Bamberg: $330,729                  0
  • Barnwell: $625,956                  0
  • Beaufort: $330,729                  0
  • Berkeley: $6,724,589          4.87
  • Calhoun: $235,724                   0
  • Charleston: $1,921,590      1.79
  • Cherokee: $1,585,583             0
  • Chester: $319,822                   0
  • Chesterfield: $2,737,466     2.24
  • Clarendon: $483,141               0
  • Colleton: $1,342,411                0
  • Darlington: $2,324,398            0
  • Dillon: $3,043,525              9.74
  • Dorchester: $2,727,868           0
  • Edgefield: $642,724           2.83
  • Fairfield: $171,080                   0
  • Florence: $1,471,064               0
  • Georgetown: $962,173            0
  • Greenville: $10,579,930     5.68
  • Greenwood: $1,439,881          0
  • Hampton: $336,943                 0
  • Horry: $2,581,580                    0
  • Jasper: $7,262,724              6.76
  • Kershaw: $693,094              2.79
  • Lancaster: $777,853             1.32
  • Laurens: $250,380                    0
  • Lee: $621,399                       3.23
  • Lexington: $3,402,852              0
  • Marion: $3,982,967            10.47
  • Marlboro: $2,772,571                0
  • McCormick: $347,576          0.82
  • Newberry: $659,938             2.15
  • Oconee: $4,181,413                0
  • Orangeburg: $2,526,798         0
  • Pickens: $3,401,060           2.00
  • Richland: $3,099,401         9.62
  • Saluda: $1,981,196                 0
  • Spartanburg: $2,887,781        0
  • Sumter: $1,734,775         11.60
  • Union: $1,973,809                  0
  • Williamsburg: $1,551,842       0
  • York: $4,263,967             10.83

The next 2-cent hike in the state gas tax will take effect on July 1, bringing the total increase since 2017 to 6 cents.

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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