South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary H.B. “Buck” Limehouse says the D.O.T is in line with the other state agencies when it comes to trying to find creative ways to get things done with less revenue. Limehouse recently presented his annual “State of the SCDOT Report” to the members of the General Assembly. A major portion of the 19-page report provides information of the department’s revenue situation. The department oversees the state’s transportation infrastructure system, which is the fourth largest state-maintained system in the nation. Limehouse points out with the recession, people are driving less and that adversely affects the department’s revenue stream.
People are driving less because of the high cost of fuel and economy and that makes it tough for our department because we get our revenue on the tax on each gallon of gasoline sold to consumers. Our national energy policy of trying to become independent and implementation of conservation measures has actually created a decline in revenue for the department of transportation and I’m sure for all state transportation departments around the country.
Limehouse says the D.O.T. suffered about a $50 million reduction in its budget over the past couple of years.
Limehouse says the department has been able to cope with the recession by instituting several cost cutting measures including prioritizing highway projects with an emphasis on the maintenance of existing roads and bridges.
We’re going to fix the system we’ve got before we go out and build new roads and widen roads so we’ve concentrated on cutting costs and improving the existing system. The result has been that safety has improved and we’ve stopped the decline of our existing roads and bridges.
Limehouse says choosing the pecking order of the maintenance projects around the state involves a list of factors:
Safety is one of them, and the condition of the facility is another. Congestion is another and along with congestion comes pollution. All of the aforementioned things go into a formula that we then apply to all like projects in the state.
That means that maintenance performed on a highly traveled highway in a metro area with a number of traffic mishaps would take precedence over a lightly traveled rural road.
The funding of the D.O.T.is predicated on the tax on each gallon of gas sold in the state, a 16-cent state tax, coupled with a near 18-cent federal tax. The bottom line is that when people drive less, the department gets less revenue, says Limehouse.
What we’ve tried to do is be a little more innovative and we created a state infrastructure bank, and we’ve used bonding and designed build as a way to cut cost. I will say that we have found that in this economy, the prices we are getting on highway projects are coming down and coming in way under our estimates, so we are getting a lot more done right now with less money and that’s a good thing.
Limehouse says the SCDOT’s budget is also affected by South Carolina being a federal “donor state,” meaning the state receives less in federal highway aid than it contributes in federal gas tax revenue. He says, “We’ve always paid more into the federal program than we get back. We attacked that when I first came to D.O.T. in 1994-95 and we were able to get the floor where we were from about 70 percent up to 92 percent on the dollar.”
South Carolina is one of 24 donor states.