Maybank Hwy Improvements

Traffic on Maybank Highway on Johns Island creeps along as motorist make their way to the intersection of Maybank and River Road during rush hour in 2012. A study released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that South Carolina leads the nation in the fatality rate for drivers on rural roads. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

South Carolina leads the nation in the fatality rate for drivers on rural roads, according to a study released Tuesday, and the state is working on a solution to the problem.

The study was authored by TRIP, a nonprofit transportation research group. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released it.

The analysis, based on 2015 data, says that nearly four people died on state rural roads for every 100 million miles of travel.

That is almost four times the rate of deaths on roads in South Carolina urban areas.

South Carolina had 607 traffic deaths in 2015, which was fourth in the nation.

The state Department of Transportation's off-interstate rural road safety program has identified 29 roads in 25 counties that are most in need of safety improvements, according to the DOT website.

They include portions of U.S. Highway 17A and S.C. Highway 6 in Berkeley County; parts of Bohicket Road, U.S. 17 and S.C. 61 in Charleston County; and stretches of U.S. 17A, S.C. 61 and U.S. 78 in Dorchester County.

At the top of the list is 10 miles of U.S. 76 in Richland County followed by 13 miles of U.S. 29 in Anderson County and 11 miles of U.S. 78 in Dorchester County.

The prioritizing of the roads is based on fatalities.

The state rural road program aims to improve the roads with rumble strips, paved shoulders, better signs, pavement markings and specialized pavement treatments.

Funding from the gas tax hike will help pay for the work if it gets a final OK. For now, the program is in the planning stages.

The first 2 cents of a 12-cent increase at the pump will take effect July 1. South Carolina's gas tax is currently 16.75 cents per gallon. Adding the 12 cents at 2-cent per year intervals will move that up to 28.75 cents when complete.

Funding will increase for state roads by roughly $600 million a year once the gas tax increase and other driver-related fees are fully phased in.

The TRIP study calls for many of the same measures that the DOT is pursuing for rural roads, such as centerline rumble strips, more visible pavement markings and raised, reflective lane markings.

Better lighting and removing trees, utility poles and other roadside objects that pose a collision hazard are recommended. Upgrading guard rails are another way to improve safety.

The department will weigh available funds and public comments before a recommendation on including the road improvements in the State Transportation Improvement Program.

Public comment on the rural roads program is being accepted until July 11 online at scdot.org. More information on the proposed rural roads upgrades is available there.

Information is also available at local Council of Governments offices.

Meanwhile, South Carolina traffic deaths in 2017 are on a pace that could top the number of fatalities reported for 2016, the DOT reports on its website.

Based on 313 fatalities through April, the state could have 1,109 traffic deaths by the end of the year, which is a 10 percent increase over last year.

From 2013 to 2016, highway fatalities increased 33 percent statewide. Horry County traffic deaths were up 27 percent, and Greenville County highway fatalities climbed 22 percent, the biggest increases in the state.

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Reach Prentiss Findlay at 843-937-5711.

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