South Carolina's road problems are well documented, and the story just gets worse. A recent report from a road policy group puts the state of South Carolina at rock bottom for the hazards created by the condition of its rural roads.
And that translates into more fatalities. In 2012, South Carolina had the highest fatality rate on rural non-interstate roads in the nation. That year, 637 deaths were recorded on our rural roads.
The Road Information Program (TRIP) study spotlights safety problems on those roads nationwide, documenting a national uptick in rural highway accidents and fatalities. The non-profit organization represents a variety of industries with an interest in highway issues, including insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, engineering firms and road builders. Its data are derived from state and federal transportation agencies.
The findings should spark the interest of South Carolina's political leaders, who have thus far been content with half measures for road improvements, despite the compelling need.
Last year, legislators applauded themselves for providing a $500 million bond issue for roads, and another $90 million for secondary roads and bridges.
And it was a step in the right direction, but only a step. South Carolina needs at least $29.4 billion in additional funding to handle its unmet road needs over the next 20 years.
The responses from the two leading gubernatorial candidates on the issue have been less than satisfactory.
Gov. Nikki Haley says she has a plan but won't release it until January. The only significant detail so far is that it won't include a tax hike.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen has a plan to mainly use general fund revenue to add another $500 million to the road funding pot. It sounds impressive, but it is inadequate to the long-term task. And the use of general revenue funds effectively takes money away from other areas of state responsibility.
But Mr. Sheheen's plan wouldn't raise the gas tax, which hasn't been increased since 1987 and, at 16 cents a gallon, is one of the lowest in the nation.
Never mind that the condition of the state's roads means higher repair bills for vehicle owners. And that's a hidden tax on car ownership.
South Carolina motorists should recognize that there is a general public cost from the unwillingness of the state's leadership to adequately fund the extensive state-maintained road system - the fifth largest in the nation.
Columnist Ron Brinson, a former port official, offers his own critique of the competing road funding plans on our Commentary page.
Meanwhile, independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Ervin called the plans "as dangerous and pathetic as the roads in this state."
The political aversion to a gas tax increase clearly is undercutting the state's ability to pay for its road and bridge repairs. A gas tax has the benefit of being a user fee, and in a state where tourism is an economic mainstay, many of those "users" are from out of state. Indeed, it is estimated that about a third of gas tax revenue comes from out-of-state motorists and truckers. As a revenue producer for roads, the gas tax can't be beat.
The difficulty in improving this state's rural roads is compounded by the fact that many aren't available for federal matching funds. It is viewed as more cost efficient to concentrate state funding for work on federal highways, including interstates, for which the state can get federal reimbursement for a majority of the cost.
The DOT has bolstered funding for the repair and maintenance of rural roads, but as the TRIP study shows, more is needed - for motorists using those roads for commerce, recreation, agriculture and getting to work in the state's urban areas.
And to keep our rural roads from being the most deadly in the nation.
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