HARTSVILLE, S.C. – South Carolina’s new gas tax increase has funded nearly $11 million in paving projects in Darlington County as of June 1, with another $7 million in the pipeline for this fiscal year, S.C. Secretary of Transportation Christy A. Hall told members of the Hartsville Kiwanis Club on July 25.
And repaving West Home Avenue will be one of the projects, Hall said.
Now in its third year, the state’s phased-in 12-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase has generated $198 million since July 1, 2017, and that money is helping fuel a historic level of roadwork across the state, according to Hall.
Spending on road construction contracts by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has nearly quadrupled since 2008, rising from $1 billion then to $3.7 billion as of June 1, 2019, Hall said.
“It’s the first time in years we’ve had this kind of new money pumped into the system,” she said.
The $198 million from the gas tax increase, combined with $202 million from other fees and $300 million of “old money” swept into the system, has driven road spending in the state to “an unprecedented level,” Hall said. “We have been planning since day one to transfer some money over as surplus revenue.”
The 12-cent gas tax increase is coming in increments of 2 cents a year over six years, Hall said. The state’s previous gas tax of 16.75 cents a gallon was one of the lowest in the nation, she said. But over the years, Hall said, inflation has eaten away at the revenue produced by that tax.
The money from the new Gas Tax Trust Fund by law must go to repairs, maintenance and improvements to the state’s existing transportation, Hall said.
“The law is very specific,” she said.
With work on a roundabout connecting West Home and West Carolina avenues, Fourteenth Street and Trailwood Drive complete, preliminary work is underway now to repave a 1.56-mile stretch of West Home Avenue from Fifth Street downtown west to the roundabout at a cost of approximately $1.2 million. SCDOT officials announced last year that repaving that section of street would be among the 2019 projects in the agency’s 10-year road improvement plan.
Hall said the 10-year plan represents a new approach and a new way of thinking to improving the state’s roads.
“One thing we’ve always struggled with was having a vision,” she said. In the past, Hall said, “we were simply doing what we had done the year before.”
“You’ve got to know where you want to take things,” Hall said. “It’s not about projects, but it’s about activities and programs.”
The new gas tax is funding more than $1 billion in road and bridge work, including $659 million in paving projects, $106 million in rural road safety projects, $246 million in interstate widening and $11 million in additional bridge projects.
“Most of that is under contract,” Hall said.
“This state is growing tremendously,” Hall said. And the state is seeing a corresponding increase in fuel consumption and road use, she said.
“Most of our roads need either moderate or major repairs,” Hall said.
Making roads safer, she said, is a priority.
Contractors on road projects are paid as work is completed, Hall said. Since July 1, 2017, $171 million has been paid to contractors, she said.
The 10-year plan banks on the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund, federal funds and other state funds dedicated to SCDOT, according to Hall.
Work currently underway includes $1.2 billion in paving, $100 million in road safety projects, $359 million in bridge projects and $1.3 billion in interstate widening projects, Hall said.