July 29, 2014

Report shows SC’s rural roads are deadliest in the U.S.

Traffic drives through North Charleston on Thursday afternoon (Image: SCDOT)

Traffic drives through North Charleston on Thursday afternoon (Image: SCDOT)

A new report suggests South Carolina’s rural roads are some of the deadliest in the nation.

The National Transportation Research Group (TRIP) released a report Thursday that outlines problems it blames on the country’s “inadequate” infrastructure. The TRIP report found the fatality rate on the state’s rural roads was 3.99 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2012. That rate was higher than any other state.

For comparison, the rate for non-rural roads was 0.68 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in South Carolina, according to TRIP

TRIP Director of Policy and Research Rocky Moretti believes the fatality rate is so high because roads in rural areas lack certain safety features.

“Rural roads often times do not have the same type of roadway safety features that you see on other roads that have a significant impact in terms of keeping people safe,” Moretti said. “Things like rumble strips both on the outside lanes and also in the center lane,  paved shoulders, turn lanes, good lane markings, good lighting, all of these features are very critical in improving safety.”

Moretti says the South Carolina Department of Transportation has made strides in making roads safer, but funding is scarce now that the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out.

“The South Carolina Department of Transportation has started to make efforts in this area,” Moretti said. “If they had adequate resources they’d like to accelerate this program, and certainly local governments could also do a lot more to make rural roads safer, but they have to have the resources to pay for these improvements.”

Moretti says it’s important for the government to solve that problem so the state can have the funds to improve roads.

“Later this summer the federal program will start to be curtailed slightly which will limit funding to South Carolina to make its rural roads safer,” Moretti said.  “So it’s absolutely critical this summer that congress find a solution to keep the federal highway program runnning.”

AAA: More travelers hitting the roads despite higher gas prices

Interstate 20, pictured, likely will see more congestion beginning Wednesday, according to S.C. Highway Patrol.

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Due in part to the unrest in Iraq, gas prices in the U.S. this Fourth of July weekend are the highest since 2008.

However, AAA Carolinas spokesman Tom Crosby said South Carolina’s gas prices are the lowest in the nation at an average of $3.34 a gallon, which he says is prompting a huge spike in highway travel.

“We’ve had the highest number of people planning to travel this holiday weekend in the last 13 years,” Crosby said Thursday. “We’re looking at about 480,000 people planning to drive more than 50 miles away from home, and that’s up about 10,000 to 12,000 from last year.”

Crosby said Hurricane Arthur will likely bring rain to some parts of the South Carolina coast, but that should clear out by Friday. However, North Carolina’s Outer Banks will likely feel the bunt of the storm on July 4.

Crosby pointed out that gas prices are slightly different in various parts of the state.

“Inland we’ve got Greenville that is probably going to be a little above $3.50 a gallon,” he said. “Myrtle Beach actually has some of the lowest prices at about $3.40 to $3.45 a gallon, with Charleston about the same at $3.45 a gallon.”

South Carolina’s gas prices are 21 cents higher than they were at this point last year.

Crosby implored drivers to exercise extreme caution, as traffic deaths soared in South Carolina last year over the holiday weekend.

“Last year was a pretty dangerous holiday with 10 deaths; the highest death toll in four years,” he said. “The July Fourth holiday always tends to be one of the highest traffic death holidays of the year.”

Alcohol was considered a factor in six of those traffic deaths during last year’s holiday.

The official holiday travel period begins Thursday at 6 p.m. and runs through Sunday at midnight – a total of 78 hours. The holiday travel period was 102 hours in 2013.

Ride-sharing service considers SC expansion, but regulators concerned

UberA ride-sharing application that’s gaining popularity nationwide could soon expand into South Carolina. But state officials are moving to act before it arrives.

The ride-sharing app uberX allows its users to connect with freelance drivers who can shuttle them around town. The Charleston Post & Courier newspaper reported Wednesday that the California-based company is recruiting drivers in the Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach areas. Uber began operating in San Francisco

Despite meeting with interested drivers last week, the company is still mum on any expansion into South Carolina. “We are excited about the potential opportunity to connect riders and drivers in Charleston,” spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh said in a statement. “While there is no standard timeline we follow, we do often find that both riders and drivers in cities are looking for increased choice and economic opportunities.”

But state regulators are concerned that the ride-sharing service may not meet the same standards required of traditional taxi drivers. The Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), which is tasked with representing the public on utility issues, sent a letter to the SC Public Service Commission on Tuesday asking that the commission determine whether ride-sharing services like uberX should be regulated as taxis.

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Former Myrtle Beach bus director sues, claiming abuse

Image: Coast RTA

Image: Coast RTA

The former director of a Myrtle Beach-area bus system is suing his old agency and other government officials, claiming he was wrongfully terminated.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reports that former head of the Coast Regional Transportation Authority Myers Rollins, Jr., filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Waccamaw Regional Transit Authority, which operates the CRTA, along with some South Carolina Department of Transportation and local officials.

Rollins is seeking $5 million, saying he was abused and humiliated before he was fired in April. He wants to be reinstated at his old job with back pay and benefits, as well as $5 million in total damages. The lawsuit claims Rollins had nine years with excellent job reviews before he was fired.

The lawsuit lists Coast RTA, SCDOT, Horry County Councilman and Coast RTA board member Gary Loftus, Horry Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Coast RTA board chairman Bernie Silverman, Coast RTA board member Katherine D’Angelo, Interim General Manager Julie Norton-Dew, and SCDOT officials Doug Frate and Hart Baker.

Rollins began clashing with county officials and SCDOT after a failed $1 million grant to build 60 new bus shelters in the county. SCDOT canceled the grant last year, citing a lack of progress, and demanded that Coast RTA reimburse it $324,000 for expenses that had already been made.

Rollins claimed Loftus and other board members consistently worked to undermine his office.

Coast RTA issued a statement Tuesday saying it has not had time to review the lawsuit.

BMW supplier closing its doors, laying off 150

A plant in Spartanburg County that supplies BMW is permanently closing its doors, affecting 150 employees.

Officials with Faurecia Emission Control Technologies said the company will close its plant on New Cut Road by December as the French company restructures its operations. Faurecia has another plant in Fountain Inn that will remain open, according to a company spokesman.

The plants make exhaust systems for BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen plants across North America. The Spartanburg County plant is a fairly new operation that only opened its doors in 2010.

The company says it will try to relocate as many of the 150 employees as possible. It will work with state and local officials to help the remaining employees find other jobs.