With 187 miles of safety improvements completed on South Carolina’s rural roads this past year, the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is getting ready to begin the next phase of its Rural Road Safety Program.
SCDOT statistics show nearly 30 percent of deadly and serious-injury crashes occur on five percent — or approximately 1,900 miles — of its more than 41,000 miles of state-maintained roads. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said South Carolina leads the nation in death rates for its rural roads.
“The common element to these, that we find, are the types of crashes,” Program Manager Bryan Jones said. “Most of the crashes on these roads or more than half of the crashes on these roads are road departures. And of those that leave the road, they’re hitting fixed objects.”
The program’s first phase still includes improvements to another 276 miles of rural highways. The state Transportation Commission’s recent approval of the second phase would add 446 additional miles of safety improvements across South Carolina. More than 900 overall miles have been approved for development.
“We are trying to address the worst of the worst,” Jones said. “South Carolina leads the nation in fatalities and the roads that we will be addressing are the worst of those routes.”
The program approach is twofold: first, provide engineering solutions to keep the cars on the road and then provide a safe area outside the roadway to provide a vehicle to recover should it leave the pavement.
Rural road improvements include making systemic improvements throughout the corridor such as brighter signs, brighter road markings, rumble strips, nighttime reflectivity, a four-foot paved shoulder, center line rumble strip, improving the clear zone, removing fixed objects and upgrading the design on some roads.
“It’s ranging degrees of geometric design on the roadways,” Jones said. “The common factor that they have is that they have high crashes. They’re in the rural areas and a large percentage of these are running off and hitting fixed objects.”
Since it can take one to three years to get a project out to contract, the agency is working on the second phase before the first is completed.
“The penalty for distracted driving should not be death,” Jones said. “So the purpose of these engineering solutions to keep them on the road and the recoverable area are for all drivers, whether they’re distracted, whether they’re elderly, whether there’s an animal that runs out in front of them.”
The Rural Roads Safety Program is one of four SCDOT priorities in the agency’s 10-Year Plan. The other three priorities are replacing structurally deficient bridges, road resurfacing and interstate widening. Click here for a link for more information on the Rural Road Safety Program.
“These features allow you to know where the roadway is, allow you to keep on the roadway, get your attention before running off the roadway, give you a four-foot-paved shoulder, which is a nice, clean surface to be able to recover without running off the road,” Jones said. “Then if you do run off the road, having that improved clear zone allows your vehicle to go onto the shoulder, recover, slow down and get control of your vehicle before getting into a crash.”