A state House transportation committee debated on Monday what the state should do about its crumbling roads and bridges.
The committee is considering moves to restructure the state Transportation Department and to reclassify some state roads—many of which are less than one-half of a mile long—as county roads.
The governor would appoint commissioners, who would in turn elect the agency’s secretary under a proposal the committee is debating. Currently the governor appoints the secretary and one at-large commissioner, and lawmakers appoint the other seven commissioners.
Proponents of the measure said it would create accountability to the commission, weakening the potential for exclusive loyalty to the governor by any SCDOT head. Also at issue are strengthening legislative oversight of the agency and combining it with the Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which provides financial assistance for infrastructure projects costing more than $100 million.
Lawmakers also want to shed some of the roads the state maintains. South Carolina ranks fourth in the country in the number of roads it maintains—more than 41,000 miles.
But county officials have said at previous committee hearings that the counties’ road maintenance agendas are already full. Lawmakers on Monday clarified that the state would not create an unfunded mandate for counties if they became responsible for more roads. Committee chairman, Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said he thought the legislature would at least double the amount of funding for roads that officials send back to counties.
The committee is looking at narrowing the annual $1.47 billion funding gap by better using existing revenue streams, instead of raising the gas tax. Proposals by committee members include using lottery funds that aren’t currently spent on scholarships and increasing the amount of fuel tax revenue spent on roads.
Approximately 10 cents out of the state’s 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax goes directly to SCDOT to maintain roads. A portion of the revenue also goes to the general fund, to counties for roads improvements, and to the Department of Natural Resources.
The committee took no legislative action, but members are aiming to vote on a proposal and have a bill ready to introduce in the House by the end of January.
Lawmakers will meet Tuesday for a new legislative session, where the issue of road funding will take priority.