South Carolina’s highway department says the money set aside for the first year of its voluntary turnback program has been completely allocated.
In an effort to reduce a massive maintenance backlog, the Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is offering local governments and municipalities the chance to take control of state roads. In exchange, SCDOT provides the local governments with enough funding to maintain the road for 40 years.
The Transportation Commission authorized $10 million for the program’s initial year, which Transportation Secretary Christy Hall says covers the municipalities which have expressed interest in participating.
“The state Department of Transportation is relinquishing neighborhood streets back to the local governmental bodies so the cities and the counties and the small towns across the state have the opportunity to take control and have authority over roads in their communities,” Hall said.
South Carolina has the fourth-highest number of state-owned road mileage in the country at more than 41,000 overall. SCDOT officials have said the sheer magnitude of lanes has been partially to blame for the high number of roads needing regular maintenance.
Hall said the idea is modeled after a successful Louisiana program. So far, 21 local governments have expressed interest in participating. The department is categorizing the requests to determine demand for the program.
“I wouldn’t consider it a cost-saving measure in as much as being responsive to the needs of the community,” she said. “It’s not an unfunded maintenance transfer responsibility to the local government. Funding goes along with it.”
The program has two purposes: to help local governments be more efficient with road maintenance and to lower the number of roads that fall under state jurisdiction.
“Basically, right-size the state system,” Hall said. “Get us from being the 4th-highest state-maintained highway system in the nation, transferring these local neighborhood streets back to the local governments and supplementing their maintenance budgets with maintenance funding to go along with what’s needed to upgrade and maintain those roadways.”
Hall said a 2016 audit recommended ways for SCDOT to reduce the size of the state highway system. She said local governments benefit from being able to efficiently maintain roads as they see fit. It also allows them to install devices that the SCDOT will not, such as speed humps, traffic lights or landscaping.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said.