The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) will improve almost a thousand miles of road in South Carolina, a state notorious for its infrastructure's poor quality, during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
The project, called the 2021-2022 Pavement Improvement Program, is part of the SCDOT's 10-year plan of infrastructure improvement. The plan was brought to life by the passage of the Roads Bill in 2017. According to the SCDOT's website, the passage of the bill was the first time in 30 years the department received a new source of revenue. The last gas tax hike was in 1987.
This source of revenue came in the form of an increase in the state gas tax. Over a period of six years, the gas tax will increase by two cents per gallon until 2022. The gas tax is now 26 cents and is projected to be 28 cents per gallon by 2022. This money will be put into the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund, according to SCDOT public information officer Pete Poore.
The trust fund will support the SCDOT's 10-year plan of improving the interstate system. This includes making the worst roads of South Carolina safer, replacing deficient bridges and repaving roads, which Poore said was "one of the biggest issues in the state."
"It was kind of a record setting program, because there was enough funding available to pave almost a thousand miles of road all around the state, funded by the two cent gas tax," Poore said.
Work has been done on over 4,000 miles of road by the SCDOT since the bill was passed in 2017. During this time, according to the SCDOT website, the Gas Tax Fund has provided $1.45 billion for paving projects and $200 million in rural road safety projects.
According to U.S. News and World Report, South Carolina is No. 36 in terms of infrastructure quality compared to the rest of the United States. The reason for South Carolina's poor infrastructure, Poore said, is because the maintenance of roads and bridges in South Carolina had been neglected for 30 years.
"No funding to maintain the roads, resurfacing and the rehabilitation, all of that, so the roads basically just got pot hole patching and did not get the resurfacing that was needed," Poore said.
Mike Burns, a Statehouse representative of District 17 in Greenville County, said infrastructure in the last five years was high on the state legislature's agenda, but it isn't making progress quickly enough.
"We weren't taking very good care of it, so a lot of the paving companies that were here weren't getting enough business to stay here, and they ended up not having a presence here. So, we eventually got down to five or six companies in the entire state that could do pavement," Burns said.
As the last paving companies remained in South Carolina, prices for paving services rose. Burns said the state wasn't getting the bang for it's buck at the time due to there being so little services to pave roads.
"I was at a restaurant yesterday, and the guy was actually telling the truth. He said, 'I'm actually afraid I'll be pulled for DUI on US-276 above Travelers Rest because everybody knows how you have to dance around the potholes going up that four lane stretch,'" Burns said.
Burns said the return of paving services to the state and more available engineers are helping South Carolina improve its roads.
"It takes two to three years to get geared up to do something like the state's trying to do. And so, they've gotten geared up, they've gotten all this money, and it's starting to show some reward. But the people are so mad and so frustrated. They've been paying this for five years, and they really haven't seen a bang for their buck," Burns said.