Politics & Government

SC’s most-traveled roads continue to crumble

South Carolina Deadly Roads - A family's story

Amy and David Lee lost their 19-year-old daughter Grayson Ann Lee, when she ran off the road and hit a tree in the median near mile marker 183 on I-26 in 2014. The Lees say the area should have been lined with cable barriers which could have saved their daughter's life.
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Amy and David Lee lost their 19-year-old daughter Grayson Ann Lee, when she ran off the road and hit a tree in the median near mile marker 183 on I-26 in 2014. The Lees say the area should have been lined with cable barriers which could have saved their daughter's life.

South Carolina’s most-traveled highways continue to crumble, state senators were told Wednesday.

Eighty-one percent of the pavement on the state’s most-traveled primary roads, accounting for 9,469 miles, is in poor or fair condition. That is up from 74 percent in 2008.

“We are in a state of crisis when it comes to pavements,” Transportation Secretary Christy Hall told a panel of senators, discussing the state of South Carolina’s roads agency.

The S.C. Transportation Department maintains one of the nation’s largest highway networks, with one of the smallest budgets, Hall said.

The state maintains roughly 40,000 miles of roads. More than half of those roads have decayed to the point they need complete reconstruction, Hall said. “You’re not getting more with less, you’re getting less with less.”

Last year, lawmakers approved borrowing $2 billion to improve the state’s bridges and interstates.

Despite that spending, the state needs to spend more to improve safety and pavement, and perform routine maintenance, said Hall, who has said her agency needs an added $1 billion a year over the next two decades.

The state’s poor roads are taking a human toll as well, Hall said. Statewide, more than 6,500 crashes from 2011 to 2015 resulted in a fatality or serious injury, Hall told the panel.

“It’s as if our state is bleeding,” said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

The S.C. House has introduced a proposal to raise the state’s gas tax and enact other driving fees. That proposal is expected to raise about $600 million a year when fully phased-in.

Given those added dollars, Hall said the Transportation Department annually would spend roughly:

▪  $300 million to improve pavement, bringing 58 percent of primary roads into good condition

▪  $200 million to widen interstates and launch a freight-mobility program

▪  $60 million to improve day-to-day maintenance to Level C, a “fair maintenance” service level with few deficiencies. Currently, maintenance is at Level D, which means highway workers are struggling to keep up a poor highway system.

▪  $50 million to enact a rural road safety program, including rumble strips to alert drivers they are near a road’s edge.

It would take another $84 million a year to improve structurally deficient bridges and mass transit services.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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