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Understanding Highway Policy


SCDOT is responsible for 63% of South Carolina Roads


State vs. Local Ownership of Highways


Every state in the nation has a highway agency. These agencies hold varying degrees of responsibility for the construction and maintenance of public highways. Nationally, 19% of all public roads are state-owned. County or municipal governments locally own the other 81% of the roads in America. Here in South Carolina, 63% of the road miles are state-owned and 37% are locally owned.


This means that SCDOT controls and maintains three times the number of miles as in other states.

















This situation evolved over an eighty-year period. Most of it occurred prior to the "home rule" form of government in South Carolina. Today, SCDOT is struggling to maintain its large network of secondary roads.


* Source: Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2009, Table HM-10.



State Funding


South Carolina state highway funding per mile is the lowest in the nation.



Highway taxes are called "user fees" because they are paid by citizens for use of the highways. Despite South Carolina's high level of responsibility, fees paid to the state by each SC citizen are among the lowest in the nation. On a recurring basis, South Carolina invests fewer state dollars per mile than any other state. Fortunately, good stewardship has been the hallmark of SCDOT's existence and the agency has consistently been ranked by the Reason Foundation as one of the nation's most efficient highway agencies. So, the state's taxpayers are getting a lot of "bang for their buck".


The highway user fee is collected at the rate of 16 cents per gallon. It does not grow with the price of fuel. The only way to increase revenues is to consume more fuel (i.e. have more vehicles on the highways). This puts a greater strain on the roads, requiring more maintenance and more construction.


The motor fuel user fee in South Carolina has not been increased or adjusted for inflation since 1987. SCDOT operations are funded through the State Highway Fund, which is over 90% dependent on motor fuel revenues (the national average is 35%).

There are actually four sources of state highway funding in South Carolina: The State Highway Fund and the State Non-Federal Aid Highway Account administered by SCDOT; the C-Fund, under the control of 46 separate County Transportation Committees (CTC's); and, the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SCTIB), governed by an independently appointed board. When all four sources are combined for statistical purposes, it shows that the State of South Carolina is 71% dependent on motor fuel revenues for state-source highway funding. This is about double the national average.





















Federal Funding


In South Carolina, about half of the state-controlled highway system is eligible for federal highway funds.


The federal government provides financial assistance to the state to help build and maintain highways because many of the state's roads also serve a national purpose. This does not make them federal roads. They are state roads. The only federal roads in South Carolina are found on military bases and other such facilities.


The federal funding that South Carolina receives can only be used for a few specific purposes. About half of the state-owned highway system is eligible for federal assistance; the rest of the roads must be maintained and improved with 100% state dollars.


Each state is required to "match" federal highway funds with state or local funds. The match ratio is generally 80% Federal and 20% State. That means that SCDOT pays the entire cost and is reimbursed 80% by USDOT.


Our total federal-aid program, including match, now stands at about million per year. This is about million below the FY '12 level. Most of the federal program is used for Interstate maintenance, bridge replacements, primary route maintenance, and the COG/MPO "Guideshare" Program.


Congress will enact a new Transportation Authorization bill in 2014. Until then, federal funding levels are expected to remain depressed.



Planning Policy


Many people believe that SCDOT solely controls the selection and development of all projects. This is far from the truth. SCDOT's main responsibility is to manage, not control, the planning process. The agency's top priority is the maintenance of existing roads and bridges. Most new construction projects are initiated by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's) and the Councils of Government (COG's).


The planning process for construction projects may be affected by:


    * Congress

    * The General Assembly

    * Regional Councils of Government (COG's)

    * Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's)

    * Local Government

    * The SCDOT Commission

    * The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank

    * Private and Quasi-public Developments


The driving forces behind each construction project vary from traffic to safety to economic development.


Section 57-1-50 of state law pledges the good faith of the state to provide sufficient funds to meet the requirements of the federal program. The federal program is enacted by Congress and signed by the President, therefore SCDOT must defer to federal authority when projects are established pursuant to federal law.


SCDOT is required to consult with MPO's located in federally-designated urban Transportation Management Areas (TMA's) with a population exceeding 200,000 when programming certain projects in metropolitan areas. For other projects, the Commission establishes the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) based on input from and consultation with the General Assembly, the COG's, the MPO's and local governments.


Federal law requires each state to establish a fiscally constrained STIP. Projects located on federally-eligible highways must be placed in the STIP to protect their federal eligibility. The SCDOT Commission has established a policy of seeking recommendations from the COG's and MPO's for construction projects to be included in the STIP. This policy was made law in June 2007. Locally funded projects on federally eligible routes and South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank projects are also placed in the STIP after receiving formal endorsement by the Commission.


Aside from the federal requirements for establishing the STIP, state law now requires SCDOT to develop a statewide priority list of projects based on financial viability, safety, economic development, traffic congestion, freight traffic, pavement quality, environmental impacts, alternative solutions, and local land use plans. This priority list must be consulted when establishing the STIP.


Before any project in the STIP can move forward to construction, federal law requires that it must undergo extensive review by the environmental resource agencies, local governments, various cultural review agencies, and the general public. Hearings and public comment periods are required by law and often provide a positive influence on project development. SCDOT is proactive in its efforts to protect the environment while looking for fiscally conservative ways to complete all projects. Besides engineering concerns, the plans for each project must consider environmental mitigation, national security, safety, bicycle and pedestrian needs, and consistency with growth and development plans.

Safety Statistics

South Carolina has improved its safety statistics, but there is still much progress to be made.


Narrow, two-lane roads are statistically the most dangerous highways in America. Safety on these roads can be enhanced through engineering design improvements and proper maintenance. In South Carolina, the secondary highway system is under-funded. SCDOT does not have a state-funded construction program to make safety improvements. We depend heavily on federal funding and spot improvements performed by maintenance crews. Our secondary roads are getting older and more expensive to maintain.


Recent engineering innovations such as cable barriers, rumble strips, wet reflective paint, and porous asphalt have improved highway safety. SCDOT is focusing on not only vehicular safety, but bicycle and pedestrian safety as well.


The following chart shows the five year trend of fatal crash statistics in South Carolina.
























While the state's safety statistics have shown improvement, South Carolina continues to be ranked in the bottom five for Mileage Death Rate (MDR) and pedestrian safety each year since 2008. For this reason, SCDOT has made safety a top strategic goal.

Highway Facts


Did you know?


    More pedestrians are killed each year on SC roads than vehicular deaths on our Interstates.

    About 85% of all crashes occur on primary and secondary roads, not on interstates.

    Nearly one-third of South Carolina's primary and interstate highways are now in poor or mediocre condition.

    Approximately half of our secondary roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

    1 out of every 5 bridges in the state is considered deficient.

    South Carolina has the 4th largest state-maintained highway system in the nation. Nationally, only 19% of all highways are under state ownership. In South Carolina, 63% of all highways are under state ownership.

    South Carolina taxpayers contribute 43% less annual state source revenue per capita () than the national per capita average (). For every dollar the average American contributes in recurring state-source highway dollars, the average South Carolinian contributes 57 cents. The term "recurring" means user fees, not bonds (which are repaid with recurring revenue). [Source: Recurring state-source revenue sources extracted from FHWA Highway Statistics 2010, Table SF-1]

    If a person drives 15,000 miles a year and gets 20 miles per gallon, they pay in SC motor fuel user fees annually. This is enough to resurface about 7 feet of one lane on the average secondary road.

    Federal funds are limited in how they can be used. They generally cannot be used for routine maintenance and must be used on roads that contribute significantly toward interstate commerce.

    Approximately 50% of state highway system is NOT eligible for federal funding.

    SCDOTs primary source of revenues is the state and federal motor fuel user fee (on average, more than 90%). It does not grow with inflation. Due largely to the national economic recession in 2008, revenues have fallen and only toward the end of FY'12 did they recover to 2008 levels.

    Nearly all other states substantially augment their Highway Programs with other dedicated non-fuel tax revenues.

    The state motor fuel user fee has been 16ยข per gallon since 1987. This is the 4th lowest in the nation. It has remained flat while the Consumer Price Index has grown 105% and traffic has grown 61%.

    Unlike the state sales tax, when gas prices go up, fuel revenues tend to go down. Improved fuel efficiency also causes fuel user fee collections per mile to drop (21% reduction in motor fuel user fee collections per mile between 1987 and 2011).


** Information Provided By SCDOT.ORG



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