Council Hopes to Make SC Roads Safer

Wed December 21, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Kate Zanoni

According to the South Carolina Transportation Policy and Research Council, drivers face threats to their personal safety every day due to unsafe road conditions throughout the state.

The council’s mission is to raise awareness of what it said are deteriorating conditions of the state’s secondary roads, citing potholes as only one menace to the public’s safety.

The council said anyone who has driven on South Carolina roads has experienced the threat firsthand. As part of its awareness campaign, the council warns that oncoming traffic on narrow two-lane roads can be deadly to face because the roads are so restricting.

As a caution to drivers, the council has set up a Web site with facts about potential safety risks. One example warns drivers that swerving to avoid an on-coming vehicle can cause a head-on collision or force one’s car off the road onto a deteriorating shoulder.

The council, which ranks the state’s roads as among the worst in the nation, cautions that it may be difficult to avoid an accident because there is no escape route.

South Carolina has one of the highest highway fatality rates in the country. On average, three people die every day. More than 90 percent of collisions occur not on the interstates, but on the state’s secondary roads.

In addition to disintegrating roadways, South Carolina is home to 8,321 state-owned bridges, more than 2,000 of which need to be torn down and replaced due to substandard conditions.

But the council believes taxpayers cannot take on this responsibility of funding reconstruction projects alone.

To assist with the arduous task of repairing these roads, the South Carolina Transportation Policy and Research Council has started a campaign called “South Carolina’s Roads: Danger Ahead,” to urge elected officials to take action.

With this aggressive campaign, it hopes to obtain funding for the state’s ailing roadways under the leadership of Chernoff Newman.

“We have created a special campaign fund account for the money raised specifically for this effort, and will use the funds solely for the efforts that have been approved by the board of directors,” said Timothy Hydrick, president of the council. “Our state’s highway fatality rate, crumbling roads and bridges, and slow economic development need our attention immediately. We are confident that we can make a difference in the lives of South Carolinians by encouraging investment in our state’s infrastructure.”

The transportation council is a non-profit organization composed of business leaders. Its mission is to encourage and promote South Carolina’s prosperity and growth through leadership on all transportation issues.

The council is independent from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), yet the state agency is supportive in the effort to secure revenue for road repairs.

Problem Goes Beyond Infrastructure

According to Terecia Wilson, SCDOT director of safety, people’s excessive speeding, not the waning infrastructure, causes the state’s unsafe road conditions.

“The problem is that people do not obey the speed limit,” said Wilson.

South Carolina’s population rate for speed related deaths is three times the rate of the rest of the Unites States as a whole and has a significantly higher percentage rate of speed related fatalities.

Adding shoulders and frequent speed limit signage on secondary roads also has helped South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) reduce fatalities.

“We are using raised post-markings to alert drivers when they cross into the shoulder,” said Wilson.

She said there has been a 57 percent reduction in fatalities over the past year. The safety campaign and project have come at a cost, however, with an estimated total more than $26 million in 2004 alone, but SCDOT has received help in footing the bill.

“The council has done a tremendous job raising funding for the state’s unsafe roadways,” said Wilson.

She cited SCDOT’s Director of Administration Michael Covington as an important link between the two organizations. As legislative liaison, he serves as the main connection between SCDOT and the transportation council.

Covington’s link between SCDOT and the transportation council is essential to both organizations’ mutual effort to support and promote positive transportation initiatives throughout the state.

Their collaborative efforts persist as the transportation council develops a speakers bureau for continuous education of highway maintenance.

As legislative liaison, Covington develops legislation on behalf of SCDOT by providing the transportation council with executive policy advice and assistance on matters impacting both organizations.

“We share concerns of issues affecting transportation policy,” said Covington. “It’s not just funding … it also includes project delivery, oversize permitting, signage and pavement marking standards.”

Covington also serves as the link between the public and private sectors. His partnership with the transportation community allows the council to pass information along to the public.

Membership to the council costs $100. Anyone can join its ranks.

For more information, call 803/252-8442. CEG

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