Bridge, road work in SC still moving slowly with gas-tax-hike money

Bridge, road work in SC still moving slowly with gas-tax-hike money


In recently announcing his proposed nearly $41 billion total state budget for fiscal 2025, Gov. Henry McMaster recommended using a projected $500 million school-fund surplus for emergency bridge replacement and repairs.

“Many of these bridges are 60, 70 and even in excess of 80 years old and are crumbling before our eyes each day,” McMaster said in a Jan. 5 press release. “Too many have been closed, while others are in such a state of disrepair that the required restrictions render them useless for commercial trucking, school buses, or fire trucks needed to serve our state’s increasing population.”

Yet The Nerve found in a review of S.C. Department of Transportation records that as of Nov. 30, only three of 25 designated bridge projects have been completed with revenues collected under the 2017 gas-tax-hike law – money that lawmakers promised would be used to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

The Nerve’s latest review also found that DOT has continued to move slowly on repaving or rebuilding roads statewide with those funds.

As of Nov. 30, the cash balance in a special fund created with the gas-tax-hike law, which raised the state gasoline tax a total of 12 cents per gallon over six years – a 75% jump from the base 16 cents – plus increased other vehicles taxes and fees – was $1.41 billion, DOT records show. The surplus, which the agency says will be used for pending vendor payments, represented 37% of the $3.81 billion in total collected revenues as of Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, in a DOT press release issued today, agency Secretary Christy Hall, who was appointed by then-Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, announced her retirement, effective March 31, after serving about 10 years in the position. McMaster, a Republican, in the release described Hall as “one of the greatest transportation secretaries in state history.” Her annual salary is $309,920, according to the state salary database.

The American Society of Civil Engineers in its 2021 report card gave South Carolina’s roads and bridges overall grades of “D” and “C,” respectively.

On its website, DOT says 80%, or 33,600 miles, of the state’s 42,000 miles of roads need to be resurfaced or rebuilt, with a 10-year goal to bring half of those roads up to a “good” rating. The 10-year plan also calls for 465 of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced.

But DOT also designated nearly $292 million of gas-tax-hike revenues for interstate widenings – not for repairing existing roads or bridges – which represented 7.6% of the total $3.82 billion in total project “commitments” as of Nov. 30, agency records show.

The state DOT Commission approved an additional $775 million for this fiscal year for an “accelerated pavement improvement program,” the seventh year of the program, according to the agency’s website.

In her written 2023 “State of South Carolina’s Road and Bridge Network” report, Hall listed 199 bridges as having been “completed” – though the funding sources weren’t identified – with another 75 bridges “under construction,” contending that a five-year, $200 million annual “surge” in bridge funding was needed. DOT maintains more than 8,400 bridges statewide.

But The Nerve’s latest review of DOT records found that as of Nov. 30, $28 million, or less than 1%, of the $3.82 billion in total project “commitments” under the gas-tax-hike law was designated for “additional bridge projects.” Those records show that out of 25 designated bridge projects statewide, only three have been completed – one each in Anderson, Charleston and York counties.

The Nerve’s review also found a relatively slow pace of completing road projects. As of Nov. 30, the total value of completed “pavements” projects in the state’s 46 counties was $1.26 billion, which represented 40.3% of the total $3.13 billion in estimated preliminary and construction costs of all projects in that category.

Thirty-four counties fell below the 50% completion mark, including the larger counties of Spartanburg (25%), Greenville (32.3%), Richland (38.3%), Horry (47.6%) and York (47.6%).

And the total approximately 7,750 miles of designated “pavements” projects statewide as of Nov. 30 represented less than 25% of the total miles of roads that DOT says has to be repaved or rebuilt.

In announcing his version of the state budget for fiscal year 2024-25, which starts July 1, McMaster recommended that the Republican-controlled Legislature pass stand-alone legislation that would “reallocate” at least $500 million from the state Homestead Exemption Fund to DOT for emergency bridge replacement and repairs. It was the single-largest proposed expenditure listed under his “Executive Budget Highlights.”

Lawmakers in 2006 passed a law eliminating all school operating property taxes for owner-occupied homes and increasing the state sales tax by a penny to make up the difference, with those revenues to be deposited in the Homestead Exemption Fund. In recent years, the fund has recorded a surplus, with an estimated total balance of $568.5 million by June 30, increasing to a projected $650.4 million by the end of next fiscal year, based on figures from the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.

McMaster proposed using $550 million, mainly in other state surplus funds, for the current fiscal year for bridge maintenance, though lawmakers rejected that plan in passing their respective budget versions. Instead, lawmakers in one week last March passed an amended resolution – with McMaster’s signature – designating $1.29 billion in projected and actual state surplus funds to bring a Scout Motors electric-vehicle assembly plant to South Carolina.

As The Nerve last year pointed out, the nearly $1.3 billion works out to be approximately $240 for every man, woman and child in the state. Looking at it another way, it represents more than 90% of the surplus as of Nov. 30 in gas-tax-hike revenues that are supposed to be used to fix deteriorating roads and bridges statewide.

McMaster’s proposed total state budget for next fiscal year is $40.88 billion, with includes state, federal and “other” funds. The 124-member House currently is crafting its own budget version for fiscal 2025, which likely will be changed by the 46-member Senate, with differences to be worked out in a conference commitment before going to McMaster for his veto consideration.

This fiscal year’s total state budget is $41.07 billion. The South Carolina Policy Council – the parent organization of The Nerve – has proposed that any increase in the state’s general fund for fiscal 2025 be limited to the rate of population growth plus inflation.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve ( Contact him at 803-394-8273 or [email protected]. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and X (formerlyTwitter) @thenervesc.

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