The Buzz

Want to fix SC roads? A look at what you can do with an added $400 million

It would take an added $1.2 billion a year to bring South Carolina’s existing roads to perfect condition, interim Transportation Secretary Christy Hall told a roads-advocacy group Monday.

That estimate removes costs for mass transit and new roads from the added $1.5 billion a year that the transportation agency previously has estimated is needed to fix the state’s crumbling roads through 2040, Hall told the annual S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads meeting.

“We realize that’s not achievable,” said Hall, who then outlined how far an additional $400 million or $600 million or $800 million a year would go to fix the state’s roads.

How much money is needed to fix S.C. roads has been the subject of intense debate as some legislators seek a recurring — year after year — source of revenue to pay for those repairs. That search for recurring revenue has focused on raising the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax by up to 12 cents.

An added $1.2 billion would repair pavement and improve maintenance as well as pay to modernize and widen existing roads – not new ones, Hall said.

However, $1.2 billion is nearly three times the roughly $400 million a year that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and S.C. House members have proposed to spend to fix the state’s roads.

Haley’s lower cost proposal focuses on repairing the state’s most heavily traveled roadways and bridges, said Hall, who is appointed by the governor.

Hall said an added $400 million a year for 10 years would get:

▪  35 percent of the pavement on the state’s primary roads into good condition. Primary roads carry nearly half of the state’s traffic. In 2014, only 20 percent of S.C. primary roads were in good condition, leaving 80 percent in poor or fair condition, according to the Transportation Department.

▪  95 percent of the pavement on the state’s interstates into good condition. Interstates carry nearly a third of S.C. traffic and, in 2014, about two-thirds of interstate pavement was in good condition.

Legislators addressing the roads-advocacy group agreed something needs to be done about the state of S.C. roads. However, they agreed on little else.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, who sponsored a bill that passed the House last year to raise an added $423 million a year for roads by raising gas taxes by 10 cents a gallon, said the problem is the state Senate.

“The House is the road. The Senate is the pothole,” Simrill said Monday.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said an added $400 million a year is not enough. One of eight senators who has been working behind the scenes to get Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise, Hutto said the Senate needs to aim for an added $800 million a year for roads but might land at $600 million.

Senators plan to begin debating a road-repair plan Tuesday.

Some senators say certain conditions must be met before they will vote for a roads bill.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who filibustered the road-repair proposal last year, said he wants any bill to abolish the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which critics say funnels money to unneeded new roads as part of pork-barrel politics.

Davis implied he would filibuster again this year if that doesn’t happen. “On second reading (of a bill), it takes 24 senators to cut off my debate and, on third reading, it takes 26 senators,” Davis said.

Davis also wants legislators to spend some of the added $1.2 billion in revenues that the state has this year on roads, instead of increasing the gas tax.

But it would take every penny of that one-time windfall to cover the cost of a single year of road needs, said Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

While the added revenues may be enough for one year, “What do you do in subsequent years?” Leatherman asked rhetorically.

In addition to roads, the state has needs in education, health care, mental health and public safety, Leatherman said.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Condition of S.C. roads now

Interstates: 66 percent of pavement in good condition

Primary roads: 20 percent of pavement in good condition

Secondary roads: 21 percent of pavement in good condition

Bridges: 66 percent in good condition

How much money to fix S.C. roads?

Lawmakers are debating how much money is needed to fix S.C. roads. It would take an added $1.2 billion to get S.C. roads in perfect condition, interim roads chief Christy Hall said Monday. But Hall said her agency understands it won’t get that much more money. Instead, Hall outlined what the Transportation Department could do with smaller sums over 10 years.

Added $400 million a year

Interstates: Gets 95 percent of pavement in good condition

Primary roads: Gets 35 percent of pavement in good condition

Secondary roads: Stops the decay of pavement

Bridges: Reduces structurally deficient bridges on interstates and primary roads by 50 percent

Congestion: Addresses pinchpoints

Added $600 million a year

Interstates: Gets 95 percent of pavement in good condition

Primary roads: Gets 50 percent of pavement in good condition

Secondary roads: Gets 40 percent of pavement in good condition

Bridges: Eliminates structurally deficient bridges on interstates and primary roads, and load-restricted bridges on secondary roads

Congestion: Addresses pinchpoints by widening a limited number of roads

Added $800 million a year

Interstates: Gets 95 percent of pavement in good condition

Primary roads: Gets 50 percent good condition

Secondary roads: Gets 40 percent of pavement in good condition

Bridges: Eliminates structurally deficient bridges on interstates and primaries, and load-restricted bridges on secondary roads

Congestion: Widens 70 miles of interstates and 85 miles of primary and secondary roads

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