The South Carolina Department of Transportation went before a subcommittee of the House Legislative Oversight Committee Wednesday to defend its priorities and how it spends your tax money. SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall answered critics who say the agency spends too much on new projects, neglecting to maintain the roads and we already have.
“Our commission has structured our federal program in a way that a majority, or a good, huge percentage of those federal dollars are going for what we would classify as maintenance-type activities, whether it’s resurfacing, bridge replacement projects, basically anything outside of a widening or capacity project, she told House members.
Subcommittee chair Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer, looked at a study done by Oversight Committee staff of the DOT’s spending and results. The report says last year, 10 percent of the state’s Interstates were in “poor” condition, an improvement over six years ago when 16 percent were in poor shape. But six years ago 31 percent of the state’s primary roads were in poor condition, and that number rose to 46 percent last year.
“These roads are not getting better, they’re getting worse,” she said to Hall. “The Interstates are getting better, and the argument would be because basically we’re getting more federal money for Interstates so we’re using all the match to do that, and we’re making progress, but we’re neglecting these other roads.”
Secretary Hall said, “If additional funding were made available to the agency and it had flexibility to use those state dollars, I believe that we would recommend that some of those dollars be allocated to the primary system to help. There’s just not enough federal dollars, even with our state match, to try to meet all the needs that are out there,” she said.
State lawmakers talked during this year’s legislative session about possibly raising the state gas tax to give the DOT more money, and that was before October flooding damaged hundreds of roads and bridges across the state. But Rep. Samuel Rivers, Jr., R-Goose Creek, told Secretary Hall, “Asking for more funds is not an easy thing, because we face our constituents and they say, ‘Don’t give DOT anymore money because they’re not doing anything with the ones they have now.'”
After the meeting, Secretary Hall told us, “The system is certainly very large, and the revenues really have only grown about 3 percent over the last several years, and that’s just barely keeping up with inflation.”
The subcommittee took no action Wednesday, saying it will wait to receive a Legislative Audit Council report on the SCDOT before it does anything. That audit is being done now.
You can see the Oversight Committee’s report on the SCDOT, and the agency’s response, here.