Roads Bill Revisited: Revenue has increased and the work is being done
By Jason Zacher
For years, South Carolinians joked and complained about the condition of our state's roads. Now, three years after the General Assembly agreed on a solution, the state Department of Transportation is making good on its promise.
The third installment of the two-cent tax increase took effect on July 1, and on schedule, our CAVE neighbors (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) have assailed the SCDOT for squandering the gas tax revenue--without merit.
The business community strongly supported the tax increase because crumbling roads were impacting commerce in our state. It was unacceptable that we were consistently ranked among the most-deadly roads in the nation. Load-restricted or closed bridges caused shipments and deliveries to drive miles out of their way, costing time and money. Congestion was delaying employees, customers, and shipments. We knew something needed to be done, and the cost of a 12-cent gas tax increase would be negligible when weighed against the benefits.
Now, we are starting to see the benefits.
We didn't get into this mess overnight, and it will take a decade or more to fix. As Jennifer Patterson, CEO of South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads told The State: "Unfortunately, we live in a world of instant gratification, so being patient is often easier said than done."
So, in a post-fact world of political discourse, what is the truth?
The first fact is that the SCDOT, under the leadership of Secretary Christy Hall, has done an admirable job in getting road projects planned, approved, permitted, and under construction.
There is so much work going on around the state that concrete and asphalt companies have launched their own jobs campaign to find workers. They're like any other business, where finding employees is a major challenge these days. The asphalt and concrete business associations in our state say their members are looking for more than 500 workers right now, with more than 1,000 more needed in the next few years--just to do the work contracted out by the SCDOT.
And more work is coming.
There is close to $3 billion in road work under construction across the state. Before the tax increase, there was only about $1 billion going on at any given time. That work will continue to increase as more funding comes in to SCDOT. In June, the SCDOT Commission approved a new slate of projects worth nearly $500 million in all 46 counties. Of that total, 80 percent will be funded by the new gas tax law.
The 10-county Upstate region has $374.4 million in new gas tax work completed or under construction as of May 31.
The naysayers who lost the gas tax fight find it easy to cherry-pick facts to support their argument. The CAVE people tout that only $171 million has been paid by SCDOT. Do you pay contractors before they complete work on your home or business? Most road projects take years to complete. My guess is that if the SCDOT was paying in advance, it would be (rightly) criticized for that.
It is vitally important to reiterate that we didn't get in this mess overnight. South Carolina has the fourth-largest state-maintained road system in the country and 80 percent of those roads need repair. We still need to replace 465 out of 750 structurally deficient and load-restricted bridges across the state. To get the entire system to "good" would cost $11 billion.Â
And, even with the tax increases, we're still way below what is paid by drivers in North Carolina and Georgia. When these increases are fully implemented, our tax will be 28.75 cents per gallon, compared to 36.45 cents per gallon in North Carolina and 35.15 cents per gallon in Georgia.
The SCDOT is being completely transparent about the system. If you have questions about project lists, vendor payments, taxes collected, and which projects are currently under construction, go to www.scdot.org and you can find it all there in a simple, easy-to-use format.
The General Assembly made a remarkable leap to dedicate more revenue to roads, and the SCDOT is getting the work done. To date, it is a success story that we need to replicate with other challenges facing our state.