COLUMBIA — S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall has called upon the state Legislature to concentrate its efforts on the state’s primary roads and bypass local commissions for the needed repairs as a final roads bill is debated.
Sen. Larry Martin of the Pickens County Legislative delegation agreed with Hall’s suggestions as she addressed members of the state House of Representatives, stating the state’s roads are in “crisis” and a plan to care for primary roads is needed.
Hall also said the funds used for these primary roads should pass through the SCDOT instead of Community Transportation Committees (CTC) as is the usual method of funds disbursement.
CTC’s are county based committees tasked with using state funds to repair county maintained roads, but according to Hall and Martin, CTCs are required to get the most for their dollar and that sometimes means primary roads are ignored due to the size of repairs needed and limited funds available.
“If the General Assembly is going to make an investment in roads, it should consider directing funds to the State Highway Fund for SCDOT to deploy onto the Primary System instead of the CTCs,” Hall wrote concerning the state’s roads needs. “Continued additional investment into the Secondary System is placing the low traffic volume roads in priority status at the expense of the State’s Primary System.”
To understand Hall’s concern, it is necessary to know how roads are classified. Martin used Pickens County as an example.
“The difference between the way primary and secondary roads are classified is extremely important in this discussion. S.C. 135 north of Easley toward Pumpkintown is a primary road and the secondary roads are the ones less travelled and are state maintained, but are just as likely to be in bad disrepair as well,” Martin said. “S.C. 186 from Pickens to Dacusville is another example of a primary road. 186 is probably one of the worst primary roads in the county if not the worst, but both are in need of repairs badly.”
Where the issue comes in is when the state funds are disbursed. The CTCs must decide which roads will have priority, and based on the budget they are allowed, those decisions are usually geared toward making every repair possible even if it means ignoring large-scale repairs that would use their entire budget in one project.
According to Martin, Pickens County’s CTC received approximately $5 million last year, not including the approximate average of $1 million received on a yearly basis and is resulting in the repaving of five roads within the county, none of which are primary roads.
“I agree with what Secretary Hall said about the need to prioritize the roads to be repaired but the sad fact of the matter is they’re all in need of repair right now. But we have to start somewhere in fixing the problem,” Martin said. “Even if we received all of the money needed to repair all of the state’s roads at one time we still wouldn’t be able to do it. There’s no way it could be done all at once, so we need to concentrate on fixing the worst roads, the most heavily travelled. I think that’s where it needs to start.”
At this point in the legislative session, bills have been passed by both the House and Senate and Martin feels certain a roads bill will come out of this session in the neighborhood of the $400 million to $415 million budget range which includes funds from the state’s General Fund as part of a budget surplus.
“The House passed a version of the budget with $415 million for roads and the Senate has already passed one with $400 million set aside, so the figure for the state roads budget is all but set. If we can get the standalone bill restructuring the governance of the DOT and the infrastructure bank changes we will be making progress,” Martin said. “By making those changes there will be a huge change in accountability on how the funds are spent. The combination of extra revenue and organizational changes should help us see some progress.”
Until the final budget is passed and signed into law, the figures and plans are still somewhat up in the air.
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.