(The Center Square) – South Carolina’s roads and bridges face a projected funding gap of $43 billion by 2040 and more than 50% of the state’s roads are in “poor condition,” according to the South Carolina section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (SC-ASCE).
The civil engineers association released its 2021 report card on South Carolina’s infrastructure Wednesday at the Statehouse in Columbia.
The report card examined eight infrastructure categories and gave the Palmetto State a D-plus grade, a notch below the C-minus grade the ASCE issued for the nation’s infrastructure.
A grade of B for ports and a C-grade for bridges were the two highest scores calculated by the SC-ASCE. The other six grades were in aviation (D-plus), dams (D), drinking water (D-plus), roads (D), transit (D-plus) and wastewater (D).
“South Carolina has made significant strides in addressing its infrastructure in recent years to better prepare for a booming population,” the report card said, praising lawmakers for raising the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon for six years starting in 2017 to generate more than $625 million in increased road funding.
“South Carolina’s agencies and leaders have taken matters into their own hands to ensure our network of infrastructure systems are suitable for a 21st-century economy and expanding demographic,” SC-ASCE President Jonathan Thrasher said. “Now it is time for the federal government to do its part in aiding our communities with the necessary funding to bring all of our systems to a state of good repair.”
The report card comes as South Carolina lawmakers prepare for a fall special session to allocate more than $3.1 billion in “one-time” money – $600 million from the Savannah River Site (SRS) plutonium settlement and $2.5 billion in pandemic assistance via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Gov. Henry McMaster recommended last week $360 million in ARPA money to be allocated to widen Interstate 26 between Charleston and Columbia.
South Carolina also could to receive $4.6 billion for highways and $274 million for bridges as part of the five-year, $1.2 trillion federal INVEST in America Act, which was approved by the U.S. Senate and is being debated in the House.
Under the INVEST in America Act, South Carolina also could tap into a $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program, a $16 billion fund for economic development projects, a $5 billion fund for public transportation improvements, $100 million to extend broadband internet connectivity and a $70 million fund for creating electric vehicle charging networks.
“South Carolina’s transportation network is improving, but there’s still much work to be done,” South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) Secretary Christy Hall said.
SCDOT is ahead of schedule in its 10-year plan, “and we continue to improve the worst of our rural roads to make them safer,” Hall said. “In addition, we hope to have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put a significantly greater federal investment to work widening all of I-26 between Columbia and Charleston and expanding many local roads across the state that are congested.”
A breakdown of the 2021 report card for South Carolina’s infrastructure:
• Aviation (D-plus): South Carolina’s 56 airports are expected to experience a 15% increase in flights by 2026, yet annual investment could fall short by 75% of needs and congestion is mounting at terminals, according to the report card.
• Bridges (C): Nearly 11% of South Carolina bridges are structurally deficient – more than the 7.5% national average – and more bridges are rated in fair (47%) than good (45%) condition, the SC-ASCE reported.
According to a White House fact sheet, 1,702 bridges in South Carolina are in poor condition.
• Dams (D): There are more than 2,200 dams across the state with more than 80% privately owned, the SC-ASCE noted in rating 359 as “high-hazard dams." Since 2019, the state has spent more than $12 million in one-time and recurring funds for dams, which is good, but not good enough. “South Carolina’s dam safety budget remains well below the national average,” the report card said.
• Drinking water (D-plus): The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projected it will require a $6 billion investment over the next 20 years to meet South Carolina’s drinking water system needs. “The greatest portion of this need, over $4.5 billion, come from replacing and refurbishing the aging or deteriorating distribution and transmission pipelines,” the according to SC-ASCE.
• Ports (B): The South Carolina Ports Authority (SC Ports), state and federal governments and the shipping industry are investing $2.6 billion through this fiscal year to double container capacity at the new High K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal in Charleston and deepen the harbor for mega-container ships.
• Roads (D): More than half the state’s roads are in poor condition, according to the report card. The White House has identified 7,292 miles of highway in South Carolina in poor condition.
Since 2011, the White House estimated, commute times have increased by 7.4% in South Carolina, and, on average, each driver pays $625 per year in costs associated with driving on roads in need of repair. SC-ASCE estimated that cost at $564 per year.
While raising the gas tax over six years will generate an additional $625 million for roads and is “an important step in the right direction,” the report card estimated the state will need nearly $43 billion over the next two decades to keep roads in safe condition.
• Transit (D-plus): Although rural public transit has improved, intercity ridership has declined by 60% and intercity bus transportation “does not service the state’s six commercial airports, the entire north-central region, or any of the 11 Amtrak rail stations, hindering connectivity,” the report card said.
• Wastewater (D): Similar to drinking water, South Carolina’s wastewater systems will need $6.1 billion in projected improvements over the next 20 years according to the EPA.