S.C. tops in fatalities on rural roads

COLUMBIA - South Carolina has the deadliest rural roads in the nation, according to a report released Thursday.

The report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, said South Carolina's crashes and fatalities on rural roads are also nearly six times higher than on the rest of the state's roads.

Four people died on the state's rural roads for every 100 million miles of travel, according to the report. Florida ranked second deadliest, with three deaths per every 100 million miles of travel. The data shows 637 people died on South Carolina's non-interstate roads in 2012.

"It shouldn't surprise anybody when only 15 percent of roads are in good condition," said Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet. "You're always better off taking care of infrastructure."

More people die on rural roads because they tend to have less adequate safety features; 94 percent of the nation's rural roads are two-lane routes. The report also noted that the state's development is placing increased traffic loads on rural roads that weren't constructed to carry such a volume.

"While South Carolina struggles to maintain its Interstate and primary roadway systems, the rural roadways are neglected and continue to deteriorate," said Eric Dickey, chairman of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads, through TRIP's written release. Dickey said earlier this week the South Carolina Department of Transportation's cash stream is not enough to support the state's roads.

The report encourages the federal government to adopt policies that will improve rural roads, including adequately funding the nation's rural infrastructure.

"More than 46 million Americans live in rural and less densely populated areas of the country where their primary mode of transportation is a personal vehicle," said Kathleen Bower, AAA spokeswoman, in TRIP's release. "Motorists expect and deserve safe, well maintained roads and bridges no matter if they are traveling on the Interstates or rural roads."

The topic of finding cash to fix South Carolina's roads has been popular lately, since Gov. Nikki Haley announced on July 1 she would present a plan to the Legislature in January that would address the issue. House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, proposed legalizing casinos in the Myrtle Beach area to help pay for road repairs the day after.

Meanwhile, Cleary has been advocating for addressing road funding as soon as possible and not after the November election.

"Roads are a function of government and I don't' think anybody disagrees with that," Cleary said. "And it's the responsibility of the Legislature, with the governor's leadership, to make sure infrastructure is something you can be proud of, not something to be ashamed of."

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.

Editor's note: Earlier published versions of this story contained an error. The death rates on the rural roads are calculated for every 100 million miles of travel.