Fixing our Roads
Understand the problem
Road spending vs results
Our roads weren't always this bad. It took my entire first two years in office to get a clear idea of how things got this bad. Here's what I found: road spending tripled, and our roads crumbled.
Where it all began
In 1999, SC DOT began the $5 billion "27 in 7" initiative to accelerate 27 years' worth of interstate projects in only 7 years, which included:
- The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston
- The Southern Connector toll road
- Interchange improvements
To get the $5 billion, SC DOT had to borrow, and to pay it off they robbed the road maintenance budget.
Maintaining a road is like keeping up a house. With minor maintenance, paint jobs, and new shingles every 20-30 years, most houses will last a lifetime.
Asphalt needs the same kind of care. If not maintained, the road's foundation can become damaged and the road cannot be resurfaced--it must be rebuilt. Many of our secondary and county roads fall into this category, and even some highways.
SC DOT knew the consequences of what was happening. Former Secretary of Transportation Robert St. Onge warned in 2012 that unless something changed, his job would be to "manage the decline of the highway system" (scchamber.net).
Don't Make it Worse
By raising the gas tax...
Leave it to a politician to complain about low taxes as if they were a bad thing! Low cost of living is one of the things people love about South Carolina.
Despite our state's tax advantages, opportunistic politicians seized the chance to play off our crumbling, neglected roads to make a well-executed snow job on the public and raise the gas tax, vehicle sales tax, registration fees, and more.
Worse, the final tax proposal was quite unfair, hurting low and fixed-income citizens, and singling out hybrid car owners for not buying enough gas.
To pay for more borrowing...
Grand promises were made. A new account, called the "Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund" was set up, sold to the legislature as a "lock box" that couldn't be robbed. But the "lock box" has a back door, and Sen. Hugh Leatherman has the key:
All state revenues and state monies dedicated by statute to the operation of the department must be deposited into...the "Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund". All funds must be held and managed by the State Treasurer separate and distinct from the general fund, except as to monies utilized by the State Treasurer for the payment of principal or interest on state highway bonds as provided by law.
SC Code of Laws, 57-11-20(A)(1)
Here's the plan: the $216 million in projected new gas tax money would be enough to make the payments on $2 billion in bonds--and just like that, the DOT can take on another 27-in-7 style initiative, paid for by the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund (aka your new higher gas tax).
To build even more roads
One thing you don't do with borrowed money is re-pave roads, because you'll still be paying on the debt by the time the road needs to be re-paved again.
Early indications are that the new gas tax money is already being diverted to pay for even more new interstate projects, primarily in the low country. So far, very little of the increase in the gas tax is repaving the really bad roads where you live.
Late in the 2015 budget process, we received word that $350 million more tax revenue would be coming in than was originally expected in the budget.
Gov. Nikki Haley called a press conference, which I participated in, to call on the legislature to do something fiscally conservative with the money:
- Give it back in tax refunds,
- Pay off state debt, or
- Fix roads
Spend the money on our true priorities
Following the press conference, I proposed a series of amendments to redirect all of the unexpected tax revenue to fix roads--but not through SC DOT. My amendments sent the money directly to the county transportation committees, which operate outside of DOT and are directly responsible for secondary and county roads, which were in the worst shape.
Initially these amendments failed, but when the House and Senate negotiated the final version of the supplemental budget bill, it included my amendments.
As a result, $7.5 million in extra funding was allocated to Anderson County's secondary roads.
Work with the system we have
There are still badly needed reforms at SC DOT, but until we get the system we want, we have to do our best to work with the system that we have. To that end, I have:
- Established contacts within SCDOT - half the battle is knowing who to talk to and I have been able to help constituents get problems resolved and questions answered.
- Worked with the Anderson CTC commissioners to have some of the $7.5 million of extra 2015 funding to re-pave Old Dobbins Bridge Road near Love's Truck Stop where the truckers had torn up the road.
- Held a town hall with DOT Commissioner Ben Davis, and gave him a tour of local road needs so he could see the problems firsthand.
- Worked with DOT to make them aware of serious safety issues on Whitehall Road, which they are addressing.
There are many other problem areas in District 8. These are all issues I am working with DOT on:
- Harbin Road
- Whitehall Road expansion and unsafe intersections
- Highway 243 resurfacing needs
- Highway 24 resurfacing needs
- Guard rail needs
If you have an issue or know of a road that needs attention, please contact me. I'll be happy to help!