Updated Feb. 6
More than 6,800 crashes caused a death or serious injury on South Carolina’s rural roads over the past five years as state roads fell into disrepair, and funding often lagged pre-recession levels.
A $1.8 billion budget is needed for the current fiscal year, which ends in June, to keep pace with inflation, Transportation Secretary Christy Hall told the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday. The SCDOT’s current budget is $1.7 billion.
Hall referred to studies that have ranked South Carolina’s roads as the most efficient nationwide, saying those rankings were based on dollars per road mile, compared to a relatively large highway system.
“You’re not getting more with less, you’re getting less with less,” she said.
The state spends approximately $35,000 per mile on its more than 41,000 miles of roads, the fourth largest state-maintained system in the country.
Hall said the state has the highest fatality rate in the nation, 53 percent higher than the national average, which she tied to deferred maintenance.
She showed the committee a slide on which red dots representing serious crashes peppered a map of the state.
“It’s as if our state is bleeding,” said committee Chairman Larry Grooms, R-Charleston.
The agency plans to respond by targeting a $50 million annual safety program, over 10 years, to reduce deaths and injuries on 1,957 miles of rural roads.
Hall said safety data isn’t specific to the condition of roads, but an increase in crashes does correlate with deteriorating infrastructure.
The goal is to keep drivers on roads by using rumble strips, guard rails and paint lines. Secondarily, the agency wants to give drivers a chance to get back on roads by using such means as wider shoulders.
Additionally, more funding is needed to bring pavements up to par. More than half of roads are in poor condition. Twenty-nine percent are labeled fair. And 17 percent are in good condition.
Nearly half the state’s traffic is on approximately 9,400 miles that comprise the state’s primary system, which includes U.S. and S.C. routes. Roughly 80 percent of those roads are in fair or poor condition.
“We are in a state of crisis when it comes to pavements,” said Hall. The agency needs to spend $900 million per year on pavements, compared to the $415 million it currently spends, she said. Bringing poor and fair roads to good condition would require $11 billion.
Hall said it will take 10 years to recover damage done to roads over the last five years.
A $2.2 billion borrowing plan cleared the Statehouse in 2016, allowing SCDOT pursue 16 projects, including bridges maintenance, resurfacing, and interstate widening projects.
House and Senate leaders have said they plan to seek a permanent funding stream for roads outside of the general fund. The same lawmakers have also pursued legislation to stop so-called dark money from interfering.
Last year, the local chapter of the national Americans for Prosperity held rallies at gas pumps statewide and had members call on legislators to stop a gas tax increase.
Sen. Luke Ranking, R-Conway, referred to the group’s efforts, saying citizens of local governments are already voting to raise taxes on themselves to help fund infrastructure.
“A tax is a tax is a tax,” he said.
Rural crashes from 2011 to 2015 resulting in death or serious injury–
-61% involved a roadway departure
-48% happened at night
-45% involved a collision with a tree or similar fixed object
-41% were speed related
-27% involved an intoxicated driver
-17% happened at an intersection
-14% happened when driving conditions were wet