SCDOT Faces $22B Shortfall in Next Decade

Thu June 05, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG



South Carolina faces a shortfall of nearly $22 billion over the next 10 years in needed transportation funding to relieve congestion, improve road and bridge conditions and implement needed safety enhancements, according to a new report released May 14 by TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.

The report, “Future Mobility in South Carolina: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility,” examines transportation funding, road and bridge conditions, traffic congestion, roadway safety and economic development in South Carolina. According to the TRIP report, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) estimates that from 2007 to 2016, a total of $28.2 billion is needed to relieve congestion, improve road conditions, make needed bridge repairs and implement desirable safety enhancements. However, SCDOT estimates that only $6.3 billion will be available during this time, leaving a shortfall of approximately $21.9 billion for needed improvements to the state’s transportation system. This shortfall is exacerbated by sharply increasing highway construction costs.

“It is long past time to invest well in our transportation network,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “With each passing minute, taxpayers take a hit, losing time and money while stuck in traffic and traveling on crumbling roads. The state has grown and changed and the old ways of providing infrastructure have to change to keep pace.”

The TRIP report found that the state’s roads and bridges are increasingly congested due to rising population and vehicle travel levels in recent years. In 2006 (the latest year for which data is available), 39 percent of South Carolina’s major roadways were congested. From 1990 to 2006, vehicle travel on South Carolina’s roads increased at a rate more than 10 times faster than additional highway capacity was added.

“In order to move South Carolina forward, state leaders and elected officials must be willing to make investment in our roads and bridges a much higher priority. Failure to do so will result in continued deterioration of the state’s highway system, which, no doubt, will adversely impact economic growth,” said Matt Jolliff, chairman of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads (SC FOR).

According to the TRIP report, South Carolina’s traffic fatality rate is the sixth highest in the nation, and the state has a rural traffic fatality rate that is more than four times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state. Improving safety features on South Carolina’s roads and highways would likely result in a decrease in traffic fatalities in the state, the report concludes.

“South Carolina must be willing to make investing in our roads and bridges a much higher priority. Continued neglect of our state’s deteriorating highway infrastructure will result in higher fatality rates, increased congestion and a decline in prospective businesses looking to invest or existing businesses expanding in the Palmetto State,” said Rep. Bob Walker, chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee.

The report also found that nearly a quarter of the state’s bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards. Fourteen percent of South Carolina’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2007 and an additional 9 percent were functionally obsolete. This includes all bridges that are 20 ft. (6 m) or more in length and are maintained by state, local and federal agencies.

“The state’s roads and bridges are in dire need of increased funding, and business leaders encourage the General Assembly to first move highway-related General Fund dollars, like the sales tax on vehicles, back to infrastructure,” said S. Hunter Howard Jr., president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

More than one quarter — 26 percent — of South Carolina’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. The TRIP report calculates that driving on roads in need of repair costs the average South Carolina motorist approximately $265 per year — $791 million statewide — in additional vehicle operating costs. These costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.

“Providing additional funding for needed highway projects is essential if South Carolina’s residents, businesses and visitors are to enjoy a transportation network that is safe, smooth and efficient. Needed maintenance and improvements will help ensure that congestion and deterioration on the state’s roads don’t worsen,” said William M. Wilkins, TRIP executive director.

Additional findings from the TRIP report:

• South Carolina’s population increased more than 24 percent since 1990 and is expected to grow an additional 19 percent by 2030. Vehicle travel in South Carolina increased by 46 percent from 1990 to 2006 — jumping from 34.4 billion vehicle miles traveled to 50.2 billion miles.

• Between 2002 and 2006, 5,197 people were killed in traffic accidents in South Carolina, an average of 1,039 fatalities per year. The state’s traffic fatality rate of 2.07 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2006 (the latest year for which data is available) was 44 percent higher than the national average of 1.41.

• The traffic fatality rate in 2006 on South Carolina’s non-Interstate rural roads was 4.1 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, which is more than four times higher than the traffic fatality rate on all other roads and highways in the state.

• In 2006 (the latest year for which data is available), 6 percent of South Carolina’s roads were rated in poor condition and 20 percent were rated in mediocre condition.