The S.C. House’s main budget-writing panel voted Tuesday to allow counties and cities to buy some state roads.
Now, counties must use 25 percent of the money that they get from the General Assembly to maintain state roads. If the amendment approved Tuesday becomes part of next year’s budget, counties and other local governments instead could use that 25 percent to buy state roads.
Road purchases by counties and local governments could eat into the more than 20,000 miles of state roads that are 2 miles long or shorter, said House and Ways Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson.
The state owns and maintains more than 41,000 miles of roads, the vestige of years of state control over local governments.
Reducing the miles of roads under state control could help reduce the state’s $29 billion deficit in the money that it is projected to need over the next three years to repair streets, highways and bridges statewide.
However, local government representatives have expressed concern about whether those governments will have enough money to maintain roads that would fall under their ownership.
Counties and cities would get to keep the portion of money now earmarked for state road maintenance and use that to repair any streets they buy, White said. “We’re giving them a revenue stream.”
Local governments also might find less expensive ways to repair roads and fix them faster than the state, White said.
The S.C. Transportation Department would determine the price of roads.
Larger counties, including Richland and Greenville, would have about $850,000 a year to spend on buying roads, based on this year’s budget data. The state’s 46 counties would have $17.2 million to buy roads if the amendment was in place this year.
In the roads they buy, counties and cities are supposed to give preference to roads one-half mile long or less, according to the proposal. They also must group streets together so repairs are efficient — and “not create orphans” in the state’s road system.
The road-buying program would be voluntary.
“I don’t think we want to give local governments a road that they don’t have any money to maintain,” White said. Gov. Nikki Haley previously floated a similar proposal. Her plan called for setting aside $75 million to pay local governments to take over state-owned roads.