January 25, 2015

Report: Poor South Carolina roads costing drivers $1,300 more per year

carsRoads and bridges that are deficient, congested or lack desirable safety features cost South Carolina motorists a total of $3 billion statewide annually – as much as $1,300 per driver in some areas, according to a new report.

The report released Thursday by the national transportation advocacy group TRIP says the estimated cost is due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays. The group states increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road and bridge conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in South Carolina.

The TRIP report, “South Carolina Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility,” finds that throughout South Carolina, 46 percent of major roads and highways (state-maintained Interstate, primary and secondary routes) are in “poor” condition. That is a significant increase from 2008, when 32 percent of the state’s major roads were rated in poor condition. One-fifth of South Carolina’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. South Carolina is also tied with West Virginia for the highest overall traffic fatality rate in the nation.

The TRIP report claims driving on deficient roads costs each South Carolina driver as much as $1,250 per year. The TRIP report also calculated the cost for motorists in the Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville-Spartanburg regions was slightly higher than the statewide average at $1,200 per driver in the Lowcountry and Upstate and $1,300 in the Midlands.

The TRIP report finds that 46 percent of South Carolina’s major roads and highways (state-maintained interstate, primary and secondary routes) have pavements that were rated in 2014 as being in “poor” condition, while an additional 38 percent were in “fair” condition and just 16 percent were in “good” condition.

Traffic congestion is worsening throughout the state, costing drivers a total of $775 million annually in lost time and wasted fuel.

“The South Carolina Department of Transportation manages the 41,000 miles of state funded roads with the third lowest motor fuel user fee in the nation. With an estimated additional $1.5 billion needed per year for the next 25 years to “get to good”, they are currently having to do the best they can with what they have,” said Eric Dickey, vice president of Davis & Floyd, Inc. and chairman of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads (SCFOR).

A total of 21 percent of South Carolina’s bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet modern design standards. Eleven percent of South Carolina’s bridges are structurally deficient, with significant deterioration to the bridge deck, supports or other major components. An additional ten percent of the state’s bridges are functionally obsolete, which means they no longer meet modern design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.

South Carolina’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.76 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is the highest in the nation (tied with West Virginia) and significantly higher than the national average of 1.13. Traffic crashes in South Carolina claimed the lives of 4,315 people between 2008 and 2012. The fatality rate on South Carolina’s rural roads was 2.99 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2012, which is 61 percent higher than the national rural road average of 1.86 fatalities per 100 million miles.

“These conditions are only going to get worse if greater funding is not made available at the local, state and federal levels,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Congress can help by approving a long-term federal surface transportation program that provides adequate funding levels, based on a reliable funding source. If not, South Carolina is going to see its future federal funding threatened, resulting in fewer road and bridge repair projects, loss of jobs, and a burden on the state’s economy.”

SC House GOP eyes sales tax on fuel distribution, in exchange for lower gas tax

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, laid out a plan that would reduce the gas tax in exchange for a sales tax on gas distribution

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, laid out a plan that would reduce the gas tax in exchange for a sales tax on gas distribution

Looking for a way to pay for a road maintenance backlog in South Carolina, House Republicans say they are looking at a plant that would increase tax revenue from gasoline sales without raising the current 16 cents per-gallon fuel tax itself.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, has spent the past three months chairing a House highway and infrastructure study committee. said the study committee he chairs is instead looking to end the sales tax exemption that wholesale distributors currently get when they purchase gasoline. In exchange, he believes the fuel tax could be lowered and South Carolina would still see an increase in tax revenue.

“(When gas is) $2 per gallon, if you removed the sales tax exemption but also lowered the price of the fuel tax down to 8.75 (cents per gallon), your increase is nearly $200 million over what we’re currently getting now,” he told reporters at the South Carolina Press Association’s annual legislative briefing on Thursday. If the price returns to $3 per gallon, the additional revenue could total $300 million each year, he said.

But Democrats at the same briefing dismissed the idea, saying it was a political maneuver to avoid directly increasing the gas tax.

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New construction equipment plant to be built in Spartanburg

KobelcoA Japanese corporation that manufactures construction equipment said Wednesday it will open a new factory in Spartanburg County.

Kobelco Construction Machinery USA said it would construct a new 85-acre facility that will manufacture hydraulic excavators in the town of Moore. The company said it would begin work on the roughly $42 million investment in April with a timeline that had the plant operational by January 2016. The new factory is expected to create 131 new jobs, according to the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

It will be Kobelco’s first North American manufacturing plant. The company has been importing its excavators from a Japanese plant.

“We have decided to manufacture standard hydraulic excavators for the US in North America because capacity shortage is expected sooner or later due to the market development speed,” the announcement stated.

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Graniteville readies for future, while still recovering from 2005 train derailment

A monument in Graniteville that honors the victims of the 2005 train derailment. It is located across the street from the derailment site

A monument in Graniteville that honors the victims of the 2005 train derailment. It is located across the street from the derailment site

This part 2 of 2 looking back at the 2005 train derailment in the Aiken County town of Graniteville and its impact on the town’s 2,600 residents. You can read Part 1 here.

Graniteville leaders had worried the announcement would eventually come.

But that still didn’t make it any easier when Avondale Mills revealed in summer 2006 that it would close down its textile plant, shutting down the unincorporated town’s largest employer. It was only 16 months since a Norfolk Southern train had derailed literally across the street from the company’s facility in the heart of town, rupturing a tank car and causing a cloud of toxic chlorine gas to spill out. The plant was closed for two months immediately after the disaster.

Avondale Mills executives blamed overseas competition that could make the same textiles at lower prices, along with the “disastrous” derailment that cost it more than $52 million in cleanup and repairs. “The people of Avondale have performed well. I am proud of our long record of success and am grateful to our associates and friends for their efforts,” the company’s President & CEO G. Stephen Felker said at the time. “Events occurred that have taken our future from us. I regret that I could not prevent it.”

But those words rang hollow for the nearly 1,600 laid-off employees who not only lost their paycheck, but their pension and health benefits as well.

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Ports Authority, conservationists forge agreement on deepening Charleston Harbor

The State Ports Authority announced Monday that it will donate $5 million towards land conservation efforts as it prepares to dredge Charleston Harbor down to 52 feet.

The Ports Authority board unanimously approved the resolution with the Coastal Conservation League shortly before agency officials teamed with conservation groups and Gov. Nikki Haley to make the announcement at a private plantation along the Cooper River in the town of Huger — more than 20 miles northeast of Charleston.

The Ports Authority is hoping the funds will help offset some environmental damage caused by deepening the harbor as it prepares to handle new, larger container ships. The donation, which must be approved by the Joint Bond Review Committee later this month, will come from funds set aside by the General Assembly to deepen the harbor

Lowcountry Open Land Trust Executive Director Elizabeth Hagood said her organization would handle the funds. She said they would work to leverage the money with grants from the South Carolina Conservation Bank and other groups to protect the Cooper River watershed through land purchases and conservation easements.

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