By Robert Kittle
South Carolina lawmakers will be looking next year for more money for state roads. But before talking about any possible tax or fee increases, a lot of taxpayers want to know where the road money goes the state already has.
Roscoe Wilson, Jr. of Columbia says the poor condition of our roads is costing all of us money. He was driving on I-77 between Columbia and Charlotte when he hit a pothole that tore up his car’s suspension. He turned in a claim to the South Carolina Department of Transportation, which paid for the repairs to his vehicle. That money does not come out of the roads budget; it comes from a state insurance fund. But Wilson says our road problems cause more problems than just broken suspensions, bent rims, and blown tires.
“You’re talking about accidents,” he says. “You’re talking about death, you know? If that was a motorbike and would have hit that pothole, the rider would’ve been thrown a hundred feet; killed him.”
We looked through hundreds of pages of SCDOT records and plans, all of which detail exactly where your tax dollars go. From January 2002 through December 2011, the SCDOT spent almost $7.9 billion dollars on roads and bridges.
Deciding where the money goes is dictated by Act 114, a law the South Carolina legislature passed in 2007. One of its goals was to take politics out of the equation and decide which roads and bridges get funded based on objective standards.
Act 114 says the SCDOT will decide which projects to fund based on nine things:
1. Cost, including estimated maintenance and repair costs over the life of the project
2. Public safety
3. Potential for economic development
4. Traffic volume and congestion
5. Truck traffic
6. Pavement quality
7. Environmental impact
8. Alternative transportation solutions
9. Consistency with local land use plans
Because of all of those factors, the busiest roads don’t always get repaved, widened, or upgraded first.
There are seven DOT districts in the state. The money going to each district and the amount of traffic in each district don’t always match.
For example, looking at vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, for each district and comparing that to the money each district got over 10 years, District 5 in the Pee Dee got the most money ($1.7 billion) but had only the fourth-highest VMT.
District 1 in the Midlands had the second-highest VMT but got only the fourth most money.
The busiest roads were in District 6 in the Lowcountry, and it got the second most money.
District 3 in the Upstate (Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, Spartanburg) matched up, with the third-highest VMT and the third most money.
District 2, also in the Upstate (Abbeville, Anderson, Laurens, Newberry, McCormick, Greenwood, Edgefield, Saluda) got the fifth most money even though it had the lowest VMT.
District 4 (Cherokee, Union, York , Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Lancaster) got the sixth most money and had the fifth-highest VMT.
District 7 (Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Clarendon, Hampton, Orangeburg) got the least money had the sixth-highest VMT.
SCDOT deputy secretary for planning Mark Lester says the numbers don’t match up for several reasons. One is that the numbers are always changing. For example, upgrading the intersection of I-85 and I-385 in Greenville just got started and will be a large, expensive project. Since the project is just now starting, that money is not counted in the total for District 3 looking at January 2002 through December 2011.
Projects in the Midlands that are underway now are also not included in those dollar amounts.
He says the Act 114 guidelines prevent politics from coming into play when deciding where your tax money goes. “We develop priority lists in accordance with that criteria and those lists are adopted by the (SCDOT) commission. And we put those out for public comment, so it makes for a very transparent process. And, again, in accordance with Act 114, we proceed with projects in their priority order, knowing that some projects are more complex and they’re going to take longer to deliver than projects that are more simple,” he says.
To view the SCDOT’s plans for 2010-2015, click here.
To view the updated plan for 2014-2019, click here.