South Carolina needs nearly $30 billion in new revenue during the next 20 years to keep highways in good shape, replace bridges and address mass transit needs.
The estimated cost of transportation maintenance over 20 years:Bridge replacement $3 billion Highway maintenance $17 billionHighway upgrades $11 billionInterstate upgrades $11 billionMass transit $3.9 billionPassenger rail $1.4 billionSafety $1 billionTotal needs$48.3 billionAnticipated funding $19 billionShortfall $29.3 billionSource: Task force report
Otherwise, the job of the state Department of Transportation will be to “manage the decline of the highway system,” said Secretary of Transportation Robert St. Onge.
State revenue annually for highways is $640 million. Here’s the revenue by source:56% Gasoline tax15% Diesel tax9% Truck registrations7% Miscellaneous6% Automobile registrations2% each Tolls, driver’s license fees 1% each Interest, petroleum inspection fee, electric power taxSource: Task force report
St. Onge’s comments are included in a report of the Transportation Infrastructure Task Force, a panel the DOT Commission appointed to take a yearlong look at the issue.
“It’s a big, big deal,” said Ken Willingham of Mount Pleasant, who served on the task force. “I don’t know how you can help but notice how bad the roads are. We’re just so far behind on our infrastructure.”
Willingham, a former highway commissioner, is in the trucking business. He said the situation must be addressed by lawmakers, because the DOT Commission is not empowered to raise new revenue for highways.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if anything will happen, especially with the economy the way it is. It’s up to the Legislature,” he said.
The state motor fuel tax, which has been 16 cents per gallon since 1987, is the main source of funding for DOT operations. Revenue from the tax has declined because of improved vehicle fuel efficiency and higher costs for gasoline and diesel fuel.
If adjusted for inflation, the tax would be 33 cents today, the report states.
The fee for a state driver’s license, currently the lowest in the Southeast, could be increased by $1 to raise an additional $3.3 million annually. The automobile registration fee has been $12 for 25 years. A $1 hike in the fee would generate about $2 million a year.
Marion Smith of Charleston said the ideas for raising new revenue sounded good to him.
“I’d rather have the roads fixed. It messes up your car, all those bumps,” Smith said.
Other possibilities suggested in the report include a surcharge of $1 per month on each insured vehicle, which could bring in about $42 million per year for highway safety improvements.
Unless new revenue sources are found, the report forecasts a guaranteed decline in the 41,429-mile state highway system in the next two decades.
The state-owned system includes 8,300 bridges, 550,000 traffic signs, 28 welcome centers and rest areas and 70 million square feet of sidewalk. Replacing the system would cost $320 billion.
“South Carolina’s highway funding levels are severely out of balance with the state’s highway needs,” the report states.
The state has about $640 million in annual revenue for use on highways. This fiscal year, federal-aid highway funding will be $608 million, with the state providing a match of $147 million, the report states.
The consequences of inaction on the issue are deterioration of roads and bridges, reduced highway safety, the posting of reduced weight limits or closing of bridges, increased traffic congestion and vehicle upkeep and a loss of economic competitiveness. Secondary roads with low traffic may have to be returned to “tar and gravel status.”
“If the decline is allowed to continue, congestion and load restrictions will result in irreparable damage to the state’s economy,” the report states.
Transportation funding in South Carolina is far below regional and national norms. Consequently, the state is spending most of its funds on highway maintenance and upkeep, the report states.
Suggestions for new highway revenue:Increases could be approved for:Gas and diesel taxesDriver’s license feesAuto and truck registration feesNew fees could be approved for:Alternative fuel vehiclesRental carsElectric, non-motorized vehiclesVehicle insuranceNew user fee could be based on:Vehicle miles traveledSource: Task force report