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The South Carolina Department of Transportation has increased funds dedicated to infrastructure construction projects, according to Transportation Secretary Christy Hall.
While updating the state’s Senate Transportation Committee on the agency’s 10-year plan March 4, Hall said $3.2 billion has been directed to construction projects, marking an increase from previous years. (In 2008, SCDOT had set aside $1 billion for its work program.)
One of SCDOT’s main priorities is safety. The agency reports that South Carolina has the highest rural fatality rate in the nation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 1,037 traffic fatalities in South Carolina in 2018. Of those, 681 — more than 60% — occurred on rural roadways.
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SCDOT is investing $50 million a year for rural road safety projects. Terecia Wilson, a professor of practice with Clemson University’s Master of Transportation Safety and Administration program, said rural roads often have features such as narrow lane width, sharp curves and steep drop-offs, all of which can be challenging for drivers. MTSA is a graduate program that focuses on the management and administration of road safety programs.
Wilson, who worked in state government for 28 years, including nearly a decade as director of safety for SCDOT, said measures to keep vehicles from careening off rural roadways include rumble strips and stripes, paved shoulders, brighter signs and additional guardrails.
“In most of the state, they’re old farm-to-market roads that have become a part of the state system,” Wilson said. “On these rural roads, there is literally no room for error.”
Roadway departures may be attributed to speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or simply not paying attention.
Tara Gill, senior director of advocacy and state legislation for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the group recommends automated enforcement systems, such as cameras that can photograph a speeding driver and license plate. This technology is not in use in South Carolina. Advocates, as the group is known, is a consortium of consumer, public health, safety and insurance firms that supports policies and programs designed to promote highway safety.
Advocates Senior Director of Research Shaun Kildare said solid enforcement efforts must accompany safety laws.
“When you have rural areas that have fewer people, you generally tend to have less enforcement,” Kildare said. “They can’t just be laws alone. You need enforcement to go along with it.”
Other priorities for SCDOT include repaving for the state highway system and bridge improvement. The final priority Hall listed involves interstate improvement efforts.
SCDOT has launched an interstate widening program to address bottlenecks and sections of rural routes that are important for freight movement. In December, the agency opened the final bridge associated with the construction of a new interchange between interstates 85 and 385. The routes meet near Greenville, in the northwest portion of the state.
Other efforts include the Carolina Crossroads project, which will update the hub where interstates 20, 26 and 126 meet at a point in Columbia that has earned the nickname Malfunction Junction. Additionally, the section of I-85 between Spartanburg and the North Carolina border will be widened to six lanes.
“Our economy in South Carolina is booming, and it’s really dependent on good interstates, and so these interstate widening projects are absolutely crucial,” Wilson said.
Fuel tax revenue, as well as other funds from the state and federal government, are being used to address South Carolina’s 30-year backlog of deferred maintenance.
SCDOT has tripled its road work efforts since the state’s fuel tax took effect in July 2017. South Carolina’s motor fuel user fee will increase by 2 cents per gallon every fiscal year until 2022. Prior to July 1, 2017, the user fee for fuel was 16 cents per gallon. By July 1, 2022, the user fee will be 28 cents per gallon. According to SCDOT, more than $1.3 billion of new fuel tax funds have been invested in road and bridge work.
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