I trust you enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving and are filled with the spirit that will carry you through the holiday season. Despite our troubled nation and world, we Americans have much for which to be thankful.
For those of you who were on the road over the Thanksgiving holiday, hopefully, you discovered a smoother ride than in past years. Our South Carolina roads are improving. It is joked that orange traffic cones might replace the yellow jessamine as the state flower.
Six years ago, complaints from constituents were at an all-time high about potholes, bad pavement, road drainage, or nearly undrivable dirt roads. Since then, complaints have dwindled because road improvements are evident all over South Carolina. Jarring potholes still appear, and there is crumbling pavement on older roads, but they are fewer because thousands of miles of roads have been repaved. New bridges are also being erected to replace dangerous and deteriorated older bridges.
In 2017, the mantra legislators heard was “FIX THE DANG ROADS.” South Carolinians were frustrated with the state’s deteriorating roadways.
The ‘Great Recession’ had taken its toll. Gas tax revenues had fallen. The tax at the pump pays for road improvements, and we were falling further behind. Worse, South Carolina had the second-lowest state gas tax in the nation at just over 16 cents a gallon. The outrage convinced the General Assembly to hike the gas tax by 2 cents annually over six years. That raised an additional $600+ million yearly for fixing roads and bridges.
The gas tax is now at 28.75 cents a gallon. That is lower than our neighboring states. Nationally, depending on your perspective, our gas tax rate is in the middle of the pack, either 25th highest or 25th lowest.
Road Dollars Multiply
The 2017 roads bill was transformative in doubling the amount of state funds deposited into a trust fund for road maintenance. An additional $3.7 billion has been collected, with more than $3.1 billion invested in paving projects.
Those new dollars are being put to work. In the past, SCDOT had about $1 billion of road work under contract. Currently, there are nearly $5B of projects under contract.
Deadly Rural Roads
For a small state, South Carolina has a big challenge. It has the unfortunate distinction of having the nation’s highest rate of fatalities on rural roads. Rural roads account for 30% of all our driving fatalities.
Rural roads are receiving a considerable investment in paving. Nearly 1,000 miles of rural road improvements are underway, with an immediate target of 1,250 miles.
SCDOT has undertaken engineering solutions to help drivers stay in their lanes. You may have encountered those rumble strips in the center and sides of rural roads to alert drivers that they can recover if they get out of their lane. The results are impressive. In some of the earliest projects completed, there has been a 24 percent reduction in fatal and severe injury wrecks on those roads.
Aiken County has benefited from this focus – SCDOT reports it is on its way to completing 80 miles of road safety projects to make rural roads safer in Aiken County.
Road paving is where the bulk of the road funding is being used. South Carolina needs to overcome thirty years of deferred maintenance on our pavements.
In the past six years, the state has paved nearly 7,700 miles. The SCDOT Commission approved another 800 miles to be under contract this year. We still have a long way to go, but significant progress has occurred in just a few years.
In Aiken County, SCDOT has resurfaced 329 miles of roads since the start of the gas tax increase, and another 75 miles are projected for paving next year.
Like every individual, business, and organization, the cost of almost everything has increased. While road budgets have remained the same, the price of fixing roads has risen substantially.
The cost of a primary 2-lane road reconstruction has increased by 11%. However, that pales compared to a less intense rehabilitation where prices have skyrocketed 58%!
Bridges connect our communities and our economy. Across South Carolina, there are over 600 bridges that cannot carry the full legal load of 80,000 pounds. There are another 60 that are closed at any given time. When SCDOT launched its 10-year strategic plan in 2018, they targeted replacing or rehabilitating 500 bridges. Nearly 300 bridge improvements have been completed or are underway.
In Aiken County, several major bridges have been replaced in the past two years, and eight more bridge replacements and rehabs have been approved.
Interstate highways are the arteries of commerce for South Carolina. The 881 miles of our interstate system carry about one-third of the traffic in the state. Those corridors must flow so people and industry keep moving.
As the 10-year strategic plan ramped up, 46 miles of interstate projects have been completed, and another 50 miles (roughly $2 billion) are currently under construction. SCDOT has another 250 miles of interstates in various planning and design stages.
Major interstate pinch points are being remodeled. Near Columbia, the infamous ‘Malfunction Junction’ is being transformed into ‘Carolina Crossroads.’ Crews are rebuilding the Colonial Life Interchange and improving the ramps from I-26 west onto I-126. The second phase is rebuilding the Broad River Road interchange on I-20. Both projects are well underway, and additional phases will come over the next several years.
Also being advanced is the I-26/I-526 project in Charleston and the targeted completion of the I-85/I-385 gateway in Greenville.
One-time dollars given by the General Assembly are being used to accelerate the widening of I-26 between Charleston and Columbia and the most southern section of I-95, 33 miles coming north from Georgia. That corridor can be a nightmare for drivers. The first eight miles will go to contract by the end of next year.
Also on the horizon are plans recently approved by SCDOT’s Commission to add three more segments to the interstate priority list:
- I-95 from I-26 to Exit 33
- I-95 from Florence to the North Carolina line
- I-26 from Little Mountain to the split of I-26 and I-385 in Laurens County
South Carolina’s roads were on life support in 2017. Since then, tremendous improvements have been made, and more are in the pipeline. Not every pothole has been filled, and not every road has been paved. It takes time and money. Maintaining and working to keep our road system in good repair is a forever project.
South Carolina has experienced astounding economic development in recent years. It is the third fastest-growing state with the fourth largest highway system in the nation. Continued investment in infrastructure is essential to keeping and accelerating South Carolina’s prosperity. We are entering the 7th year of SCDOT’s 10-year strategic plan. It is time to start thinking about the goals for the next decade.
PICTURE OF THE WEEK
‘TIS THE SEASON! The Aiken Salvation Army Kettle Cook-Off signaled the start of the Red Kettle season. This year’s goal for Aiken, including several surrounding counties, is $95,000. 97% of donations stay locally to help those in need year-round. It was my honor to make the first donation of the season.
Want to Know More?
Do you want to learn more about my positions, bill sponsorships, voting record, and past writings? Here are some handy links:
- About Me: https://taylorschouse.com/about-2/
- My Positions: https://taylorschouse.com/issues/
- Sponsored Bill & Voting Record: http://tiny.cc/b1pouz
- Recent Newsletters: https://taylorschouse.com/category/newsletter/
I’m Available & AT YOUR SERVICE
It is my honor to be of service. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating state government or have any thoughts or concerns about the legislature.
In Your Service,
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