SCDOT continues slow pace of road repairs with gas-tax-hike money

September 18, 2019

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

With the start of the third year of the state’s gas-tax-hike law, the S.C. Department of Transportation had completed less than 16% of $711.4 million in identified “pavements” projects statewide, newly released DOT records show.

The Nerve last month revealed that DOT plans to complete about 2,300 miles of road repairs by the end of 2021, though that number represents less than 7% of the approximately 33,600 miles of state roads that the agency says have to be resurfaced or rebuilt.

Under its 10-year plan, the department aims to bring about 16,800 miles of state roads up to a “good” rating with revenues generated under the gas-tax-hike law that took effect July 1, 2017.

In pushing for the law, which raised the state gas tax 12 cents per gallon over six years and increased other vehicle taxes and fees, legislators promised that the revenues would be used to fix the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges.

DOT has said 80% 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 given its current pace, DOT might not meet its initial goal of finishing about 2,300 miles of road repairs in two years.

In its latest review, The Nerve found that through July 31, DOT reported it had completed about 350 miles, or about 14%, of the approximately 2,500 miles of “pavements” projects statewide identified by the agency. Of the $711.4 million in “pavements” projects, $109.2 million, or 15.3%, was listed as completed through the 25-month period.

More than half of the state’s 46 counties had “pavements” completion rates of less than 20% of the total value of identified projects as of July 31, including larger counties such as Horry (6.2%), Lexington (3.7%), Richland (8.7%) and Spartanburg (14%), DOT records show.

The Nerve’s review also found that of about $258.4 million in vendor payments statewide through July 31, $93.7 million, or about 36.3%, collectively was spent on “preservation” and “safety improvement” projects – not major repairs.

“Preservation” projects include such things as “chip sealing” and “crack sealing,” while “rural road safety” projects include, among other things, adding guard rails and widening shoulders, according to DOT’s website.

Laurens County led all counties as of July 31 in the percentage (96.1%) of collective vendor payments for “preservation” and “safety improvement” projects, with Lexington (87.5%), Abbeville (79.9%), McCormick (76.3%) and Clarendon (75.3%) counties rounding out the top five, The Nerve’s review found.

Total vendor payments for the 25-month period represented 24% of the overall $1.09 billion in identified “pavements,” “rural road safety,” “bridges” and “interstate upgrade” projects, according to DOT records. The Nerve has previously reported that DOT plans to spend $246 million out of the projected $1 billion on interstate widenings as part of its 10-year plan.

Meanwhile, DOT continues to sit on hundreds of millions generated under the gas-tax-hike law. Agency records show that a special state fund created with the law had a cash balance of $472.3 million, or 60.3% of the total $782.6 million in collected revenues, as of July 31.

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.

Following are the 10 counties with the highest dollar amount of completed “pavements” projects through July 31, according to DOT records:

  • York: $9,371,013
  • Greenville: $7,340,862
  • Aiken: $7,316,458
  • Sumter: $6,629,741
  • Berkeley: $5,581,877
  • Anderson: $5,558,901
  • Pickens: $4,793,453
  • Oconee: $4,574,563
  • Chester: $4,525,342
  • Marion: $4,473,230

Four counties had no completed projects in the “pavements” category as of July 31: Beaufort, Colleton, Florence 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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