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Fixing S.C. roads going to get 'more difficult'

Author: Tim Smith

Source: Greenville Online

September 9, 2014

COLUMBIA – The projected cost of maintaining the state's crumbling roads in coming decades has more than doubled since 2008, according to a new state transportation plan.

The draft report of the state's transportation needs until 2040 also estimates that the state's transportation funding shortfall is $42 billion. A DOT report in 2008 estimated the shortfall over 20 years at $29 billion.

The Legislature took no action on transportation funding this year but is expected to discuss the issue in 2015, when lawmakers return for a new session.

"That is shockingly bad news," Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, told The Greenville News regarding the new shortfall estimates.

"Every year that number is going to grow until we finally address it. Infrastructure funding has to be our No. 1 priority going into this year's legislative session."

Sen. Ray Cleary, a Georgetown Republican who unsuccessfully pushed a road funding bill this year, said the increased cost estimates should be expected.

"That shouldn't surprise anybody," he said. "It's like any infrastructure. If you let your tools get rust on them, it's more expensive to fix them."

Bill Ross, executive director of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads, a group that advocates for infrastructure improvements, said what's significant about the newest cost estimates is the growing price tag.

"The significant thing about this whole issue is it's just going to get bigger and more difficult as we go along, instead of improving," he said.

The new cost estimates come from a 65-page draft report by the state Department of Transportation finished last month that updates DOT's long-range transportation plan. The agency plans public hearings on its plan beginning this month.

The agency's previous long-range plan, done in 2008, estimated the state's transportation needs to 2030.

The latest report stretches the time span to 29 years and estimates a total funding need of $70.45 billion, with estimated revenue of $27.63 billion, leaving the $42 billion shortfall.

South Carolina maintains the fourth-largest state-maintained road system in the nation, funded primarily by a gas tax that has not been raised since 1987.

DOT estimates the shortfall annualized has grown from $1.465 billion to $1.477 billion. That's the amount the state would need to spend in additional funds each year to bring the state's infrastructure up to adequate conditions, according to the report.

Of the $70 billion needed, the report estimates $38.3 billion will be needed for routine highway maintenance, up from $17 billion estimated in 2008.

The $38 billion for highway maintenance would equate to $1.3 billion a year, according to the report. The 2013-14 budget for DOT included $281 million for maintenance. Maintenance includes filling potholes, installing signs and traffic signals, cutting grass and patching roads.

Total maintenance, including of bridges, is estimated to cost $43.7 billion, up from $20 billion in 2008.

The estimated cost for highway expansion has dropped in the latest report, going from $22 billion in 2008 to $21.5 billion in last month's report.

Mass transit and passenger rail services also are estimated to cost slightly less, according to the report, going from $5.3 billion in 2008 to $5.2 billion until 2040.

The latest estimate of $18.9 billion to address Interstate needs includes $7.1 billion for added lanes to existing Interstates, $3.4 billion for interchange upgrades and $2.4 billion for the proposed I-73, which would create a new Interstate from I-95 to the Grand Strand.

The report also estimates $2.9 billion will be needed for new roads, $5.4 billion for bridge work, $5.2 billion for work on non-federal aid eligible secondary roads and $1.2 billion for work to accommodate bicyclists.

Lawmakers last year approved $141 million in funding to leverage more than $600 million in road and bridge work, most of it on a handful of interstate projects, including the I-85/I-385 interchange improvements near Greenville.

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