A deadly stretch of a rural Midlands road is the top target for safety upgrades made possible by S.C. drivers paying more at the pump.
Improvements to a 13-mile stretch of Garners Ferry Road in Richland County are slated as part of a $50 million initial investment from higher gas-tax revenues aimed at reducing S.C. highway deaths. The rural road was among a list of about 45 projects approved Thursday by the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission.
Nine fatal crashes occurred on that stretch of Garners Ferry from 2011-2015, according to the Transportation Department. Another 23 crashes in the same time frame resulted in serious injury.
“I’m happy that the citizens in South Carolina as a whole are now having dangerous roads looked at,” said state Sen. Darrell Jackson.
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The Richland Democrat’s district includes the segment of Garners Ferry slated for upgrades, which runs from Motley Road near Hopkins to U.S. 601 near Eastover. The road is heavily trafficked, Jackson said, because it is a thoroughfare for residents traveling between Columbia and Sumter and Eastover. The road also is dangerous because it has narrow shoulders, he added.
Transportation officials targeted rural roads for improvements because nearly 60 percent of S.C. traffic fatalities from 2011 through 2015 occurred on them. Officials ranked projects for safety improvements based on the number of crashes resulting in fatal or serious injury, those caused by drivers running off the road and average daily traffic.
“These roads in our rural areas serve as the connection to and through our communities and are often where we see the tragic results of speeding, driving under the influence and distracted driving,” Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said.
Two Lexington stretches of road also made the priority list: a 20-mile stretch of Fairview Road, or U.S. 178, and a 10-mile stretch of Edmund Highway, or S.C. 302.
Under pressure to fix the state’s crumbling highways, state lawmakers this year approved increasing the state’s 16.75 cent-a-gallon gas tax by 12 cents over the next six years. The first hike – a two-cent increase – takes effect July 1.
Upgrades will be based on each road project. Transportation officials do not yet have a timeline for construction on the Garners Ferry project or any others on the list, they said Thursday.
However, the rural road improvements will include engineering solutions aimed at keeping vehicles from exiting the roadway to reduce fatalities and serious injuries, said Leland Colvin, deputy secretary for engineering of the Transportation Department.
Those improvements will include adding rumble strips to alert drivers they are entering the shoulder and improving pavement markers.
Other improvements will be designed to give drivers time to correct if they leave the road and get back on the highway, Colvin said.
Those improvements will include widening and paving shoulders, widening “clear zone” areas beyond the shoulders and pushing back drainage ditches farther from the road’s edge, he said.
"We must change our status as having the deadliest roads in the nation,” Hall said, adding the rural road safety program “is specifically targeted towards the worst of the worst roads in our state.”
Midlands rural road projects
S.C. transportation officials identified 45 rural road safety projects. A look at Midlands highways that will see improvements as part of an initial $50 million investment on rural roads, by county:
U.S. 178 – known locally as Fairview Road, from Madera Road/Town Pond Road to Water Tank Road (20 miles)
S.C. 302 – known locally as Edmund Highway, from Cedar Creek Road to Pleasant View Drive (10 miles)
Kershaw and Sumter
U.S. 521 – known locally as Camden Higway, from Charles Jackson Street to Boykin Road (19 miles)
U.S. 76 – known locally as Garners Ferry Road, from Motley Road near Hopkins to U.S. 601 near Eastover (13 miles)
U.S. 76 – known locally as Broad Street, from Wateree River to Patriot Parkway (8 miles)
U.S. 15 – known locally North Main Street, from Jefferson Road to Rembert Church Road (8 miles)