A year ago, the debate was on. South Carolina lawmakers had their backs against the wall on improvement of roads and bridges. Action was overdue.
As much as a tax increase is never popular, a hike in the gasoline tax to fund highway repairs was seen as the best way to sustain funding for infrastructure. Not only would South Carolinians fund the work but the many visitors to the state (and users of the highways and bridges) would pay a portion.
Lawmakers moved forward, approving an increase of 12 cents over six years in the state’s 16-cent-per-gallon gas tax to 28.75 cents in 2022. The first 2-cent increment took effect on July 1, 2017.
A year later, as expected, the state of the state’s roads and bridges has not changed dramatically. The improvement process is not an overnight endeavor.
But there are positive signs, with road and bridge work aplenty to be seen around the state.
In 2017, S.C. Department of Transportation, Secretary Christy Hall drew attention to the dilapidated state of South Carolina’s pavements: 54 percent were rated “poor,” 29 percent were “fair,” leaving just 17 percent in “good” condition.
A year later in her State of the SCDOT report, Hall reports progress:
• Interstate highways: From 65 percent in good condition in 2016, the total is about 70 percent now. The target is 92 percent good by 2026.
• Major roads: From 23 percent in good condition in 2016, the total is now about 30 percent. The 2026 target is 53 percent.
• Farm-to-market roads: From 19 percent in 2016, the total is above 20 percent now. The 2026 target is 40 percent.
• Streets: From 15 percent in 2016, the total is near 20 percent now. The 2026 target is 25 percent.
SCDOT reports $3 billion in work is underway on 13,200 projects – and the numbers should increase every year. The first-year gas tax increase was projected to yield $180 million. When the full hike is in effect, the total jumps to more than $600 million annually.
Importantly, the SCDOT “10-Year Plan to Rebuild Our Roads” includes replacing 465 bridges and spending $50 million annually on safety improvements along the deadliest rural stretches -- such as rumble strips, guard rails and either widening shoulders or building them where none exist. Such improvements are underway and every bit as important as fixing potholes and resurfacing.
In her annual report, Hall offered the following details to Senate Transportation Committee members:
• SCDOT is at its highest level of construction over the past decade with more projects being planned and designed.
• The $3 billion in road and bridge work underway is three times the level of work the agency was able to provide just a few years ago.
• SCDOT’s top priority programs are rural road safety, resurfacing, bridge projects and interstate widening.
• South Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the nation in highway fatalities. The goal is to tackle 100 miles of the “worst-of-the worst” roads each year. Maintenance units have already begun that work.
• SCDOT plans to double the paving program by incrementally increasing it each year to match the phasing in of the gas tax increase. Each county will see a “dramatic increase” in projects over the next 10 years. Since July 1, SCDOT has awarded contracts to cover 1,300 miles of resurfacing on 1,525 roads in every county in the state.
• Bridges: The 10-year plan includes an aggressive replacement program focused on eliminating all load-restricted bridges.
• Interstate widenings: The major projects that are a decade overdue are in progress: I85/I385 Greenville, I26/I526 Charleston and “Malfunction Junction in Columbia.
Her message of progress and continuous improvement is what the people of South Carolina and our leaders want to read – and which is imperative if for no other reason than expectations.
As Hall stated, “The SCDOT Team is very focused on our plan and understands the public’s expectations that we put the taxpayer dollars to good use.”