By RICK BRUNDRETT

South Carolina will need almost $43 billion more by 2040 to fix its bad roads and handle increased traffic with projected growth, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the state’s roads a “D” grade in its annual infrastructure report card.

Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Transportation continues to poke along in completing repaving and road reconstruction projects with $2 billion in revenues collected under the 2017 gas-tax-hike law – while sitting on a surplus that has surpassed $900 million, newly released agency records show.

The $903.5 million cash balance in a special fund created with the 2017 law was $226.3 million more than the total value of completed “pavements” projects statewide as of July 31, The Nerve found in a review of DOT records.

The $677.2 million in finished repaving or reconstruction projects represented 46.8% of the estimated $1.44 billion cost of all such projects – a completion rate that hasn’t budged much this year, The Nerve’s review found. Twenty-seven of the state’s 46 counties failed to hit the 50% mark as of July 31, including the larger counties of Charleston, Richland, Lexington and Spartanburg.

Twenty-six counties showed no change in the total value of completed “pavements” projects from June 30 to the end of July, according to DOT records.

Lawmakers promised that money collected under the gas-tax-hike law, which took effect July 1, 2017, would be used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The law raised the state’s gasoline tax by 12 cents per gallon – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – over six years, and increased other vehicle taxes and fees.

DOT has said 80% of the state’s approximately 42,000 miles of roads need to be repaved or rebuilt, and also identified 465 out of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced. The Nerve in July revealed that only three bridge projects statewide had been completed with gas-tax-hike revenues.

As of July 31, DOT had identified a total of 4,795 miles of “pavements” projects statewide, though that number represents only 14% of the overall number of miles of roads that the agency says have to be resurfaced or reconstructed.

The Nerve in May reported that DOT planned to add 683 repaving or reconstruction projects statewide totaling 977 miles and costing an estimated $472 million.

In its latest infrastructure report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said, citing DOT records, that more than half of South Carolina’s roads need to be “completely rebuilt” – at a projected $11 billion cost.

Total “roadway needs” in South Carolina were estimated at $70.45 billion by 2040, though the ASCE’s report also projected a “funding deficit” of $42.82 billion by that year even with the 2017 gas-tax-hike law, which is expected to generate $625 million in new annual revenue when fully implemented in 2023.

The ASCE gave the state’s roads a “D” grade, which, according to its annual report, means that the “infrastructure is in poor to fair condition, and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life.”

The state’s bridges received a “C” or “mediocre” grade, while the overall infrastructure grade, which also covered aviation, ports, dams, transit systems, drinking water and wastewater, was a “D+,” according to the report.

Despite lawmakers’ promises that gas-tax-hike revenues would go toward fixing existing bad roads and bridges, DOT has designated nearly $272 million of those funds for interstate widenings, which represents 14% of the $1.94 billion in total project “commitments” as of July 31, agency records show.

In 2019, longtime Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who is the Senate Finance Committee chairman, created a special Senate panel to study accelerating interstate expansion. He also chairs the state Agency Head Salary Commission, which in July gave DOT director Christy Hall a $46,768, or 18.6%, pay raise, increasing her annual salary to $298,000 – on top of a nearly 32% hike that the commission gave her last year.

The Nerve last week revealed that DOT since 2016 has awarded 56 bridge contracts totaling $8.4 million to a company with ties to Leatherman.

The Nerve’s latest review of DOT’s gas-tax-hike records found that Leatherman’s home county of Florence had the largest increase – $6.8 million – in the total value of completed “pavements” projects among all counties from June 30 to July 31.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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