Spending the gas tax | News | The Press and Standard

by | July 14, 2017 5:00 pm

Last Updated: July 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

By GEORGE SALSBERRY

gsalsberry@lowcountry.com

Colleton County’s benefit from the increase of the state’s gasoline tax will be found in three of the four major project areas set to receive funding generated from the tax which took effect July 1.

Leland Colvin, deputy secretary for engineering in the South Carolina Department of Transportation said department officials “are super excited for the citizens of South Carolina because we have this new increase in funding.”

Over the next six years, the state’s gasoline tax will increase two cents a gallon each year.

As the increase began being collected at the pumps, the department of transportation was laying out its 10-year plan for the new revenue.

The only program that will not have an affect on Colleton County will be the Interstate Capacity Project, which involves the widening of 140 miles of interstate.

That might change, Colvin suggested, in year seven of the 10-year plan. After the high priority widening projects have been undertaken, the state will re-examine other sections of the interstate system to determine if additional widening is warranted.

But, while Colleton County will not see I-95 widened, Colvin said, it will see the Colleton County portion of the interstate resurfaced.

The additional gas tax revenue, he explained, will allow the state to double the size of its resurfacing program — another of the four major project areas given a boost by the gas tax hike.

The third project area to be revitalized by the increase of funding will be the existing bridge replacement program. Colvin said that 465 bridges are slated to be replaced under the 10-year plan.

The Department of Transportation, Colvin said, will use “a bookend approach” to bridge replacement. It will cover bridges that need to be replaced on the interstate and major high volume routes, as well as bridges on the smaller secondary routes.

The newest project to be fueled by the gas tax increase, Colvin said, will be the rural road safety program.

Funds will be dedicated to improving the safety on about 2,000 miles of rural roadways that have had the highest number of fatalities. South Carolina has the highest rural road fatality rate in the nation.

The number of fatalities and serious injury accidents on rural roads is going to be the main determining factor on which roads see safety improvements, according to Colvin.

Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall said this program is aimed at the worst-of-the-worst roads. “The research done by our engineers has revealed that 30 percent of our highway deaths occur on only five percent of our highways and these roads are in our rural areas. We plan to invest $50 million of the new funds into this program each year to save as many lives as possible,” she said.

Colvin said making the safety improvements will have a two-pronged approach. The first set of tools in the toolbox will be designed to keep the vehicles on the road — improvements like rumble strips and guard rails.

The second part will seek to improve the chance that motorists leaving the highway can regain control of their vehicle without wrecking. Colvin explained that the statistics from rural road fatalities show that between 40-45 percent of those traffic deaths occurred when the driver lost control of the vehicle, drove off the roadway and hit a fixed object, usually a tree.

A wider shoulder, paved shoulders and a clear zone will be the primary ways to attempt to curb those traffic deaths.

Engineers with the department will conduct an examination of each section of rural road among the 2,000 miles to be improved and determine what enhancements should be made to improve the safety.

“There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution for these corridors,” Colvin said. Engineers will “look and come up with a solution.”

The increase in the gasoline tax will also result in the increase of funds distributed to the county transportation commissions in each county.

As each year sees a new two-cent hike in the gas tax, the county transportation commissions will see the allocation increase. Colvin said, “They will go through the same ramp up that we will.”

“At full implementation, statewide county transportation commissions will see a total increase of $50 million annually,” Colvin said.

Secretary Hall’s message to the public is patience. “Our roads fell into neglect over a 30-year period. We believe the 10-year plan can make great strides in rebuilding our system. The new funding will trickle into the Maintenance Trust Fund at first. But as funding increases in small increments over the next six years, South Carolinians and our visitors can expect to see more road and bridge construction all over the state with each passing year,” said Hall.

“We are excited about what this is going to do. We will see some significant impacts and improvements to our system,” Colvin said.

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