Years ago, visitors to South Carolina were greeted with a sign reading, "See the Best State on the Best Roads." These days, the second part of the statement no longer applies, according to the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads.
In her 2017 report on the state of the S.C. Department of Transportation, Secretary Christy Hall drew attention to the dilapidated state of South Carolina’s pavements. A whopping 54 percent were rated “poor,” 29 percent were “fair,” leaving just 17 percent in “good” condition.
As the South Carolina Infrastructure and Economic Development Reform Act of 2017 takes effect this weekend, with a two-cent increase in the gas tax having kicked in, South Carolinians have further evidence of how badly the highway repair program is needed, and particularly on rural roads prioritized by the SCDOT.
TRIP, a national transportation research group, reported South Carolina's rural roads have the highest rate of fatalities in the nation.
A new TRIP study concluded 10 percent of South Carolina’s rural roads are rated in poor condition and 26 percent are rated mediocre. Eleven percent of the state’s rural bridges are rated as structurally deficient, the 18th highest rate in the nation. The rate of traffic fatalities on non-interstate, rural roads – 3.82 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel – is nearly four times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state.
“South Carolina’s rural roads are the deadliest in the country, a result of decades of deferred infrastructure investment. This legislative session, however, S.C. lawmakers approved an increase to the state’s motor fuel user fee for the first time since 1987. SCDOT now has the means to begin repairing dangerous rural roadways where approximately 58 percent of traffic fatalities occur,” said Bill Ross, president of the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads.
While many motorists in the state will be paying close attention to potholes and other obvious maintenance issues, SCDOT’s new Rural Roads Safety Program is a priority in highway improvements designed to reduce crashes.
Many people think of “rural” as secondary roads – which are plenty dangerous – but the top priority will be on the rural primary highways and interstates where the accident and death rates are highest.
"Leading the nation in rural traffic deaths is unacceptable," said Tiffany Wright, president of AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety. "We have to make our roads safer. We need better safety features geared toward keeping vehicles on the road. Updated guard rails, wider shoulders and rumble strips can help drivers correct themselves when they’ve veered off the road. These safety measures can help prevent some of the tiniest mistakes from turning into big mistakes, with deadly consequences."
Still, repaving will be priority, as a quality surface is a vital factor in safety.
SCDOT plans to apply an additional $300 million to road resurfacing, increasing the program by 44 percent. As a result, over the next 10 years, the state agency is to triple the number of pavement projects.
These significant improvements are to target all the systems, but the primary system that carries 46 percent of all traffic will receive greatest emphasis.
As a result, South Carolina hopefully is on the road to losing a more recent designation: the state with roads that are the best at being the worst.