Transportation Secretary Christy Hall proposed Wednesday pushing for money during the 2017 legislative session to make rural S.C. roads safer.
Hall proposed looking at the cost of a safety program that would include clearing areas alongside highways so drivers can recover if they run off the road, draining ditches so they do not hold water and upgrading signage.
South Carolina ranked second in the nation in highway fatalities on rural roads in 2015, according to a report by The Road Information Program.
The only statewide safety programs currently in place include installing rumble strips and paving two-foot-wide shoulders on S.C. roads.
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Transportation Commission chairman Mike Wooten said the state Transportation Department needs a substantial increase in its budget to improve highway maintenance, including safety.
Currently, routine safety maintenance is at Level D, which means highway workers are struggling to keep up a poor highway system.
It would cost an added $89 million a year to improve routine safety maintenance to Level C, according to the Transportation Department. Level C is a “fair maintenance” service level with few deficiencies in safety related activities.
The Transportation Department needs a recurring stream of added money so it can plan spending, including on safety, Wooten said. He advocated Wednesday increasing the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax, the third lowest in the nation.
In June, legislators ended their two-year session by refusing to increase the gas tax. Instead, they approved a bonding proposal that is expected to yield about $4 billion for road-repair projects over 10 years.
The Transportation Department says it needs an added $1.5 billion a year to repair and expand the state’s transportation needs.