As York County roads deteriorate, state doesn’t have funds to fix them

dworthington@heraldonline.comMarch 27, 2013 

— The annual cost to maintain York County roads is at least $30 million – $30 million that is largely unfunded, says the engineering administrator responsible for the region.

The funds would allow the state to maintain about 1,000 miles of roadway in York County, said John McCarter, the engineering administrator for S.C. Department of Transportation District 4, which includes York, Chester, Cherokee, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Lancaster and Union counties.

About 620 miles of York County’s roads need work, he said, and 43 of 260 state bridges in the county are rated as “deficient.” Conditions at the Grey Rock Road bridge near Tega Cay were so bad that the state closed the bridge in January for repairs.

McCarter spoke Wednesday on the state of York County’s roads at a luncheon sponsored by the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The roads and bridges that are worked on represent a difficult balancing act in which money is moved from project to project, depending on the severity of need, McCarter said. The result is that road maintenance is often done in small sections rather than all at one time, he said. Road conditions are evaluated yearly.

The $30 million needed for York County’s roads is for maintenance only. It does not address congestion problems on local roads, McCarter said. Through its “Pennies for Progress” efforts, York County has raise more than $474 million to repair and expand 114 miles of congested roads.

One of the responsibilities of the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study and the Catawba Council of Governments is congestion mitigation planning and funding. The planning organizations largely rely on federal funding.

York County’s problems are not unique. State transportation officials estimate they need almost $30 billion over the next 20 years to repair and maintain roads, highways and bridges. South Carolina has the fourth-largest network of state-maintained roads in the country.

The state’s 16.75 cents per gallon gas tax is one of the lowest in the country and hasn’t been raised since 1987. It has raised about $500 million, of which much goes to pay the matching funds for federal highway dollars. The rest goes for minimal maintenance, patching potholes and cutting the grass, McCarter said.

State Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge has characterized his job as managing the decline of the state highway system.

The state Legislature is debating several bills that would increase money for roads. The House’s budget includes $60 million for bridge repairs. There also is a proposal to use motor vehicle sales tax revenues for road and bridge repairs. Estimates of motor vehicle sales tax revenues for roads range from $82 million in Senate discussions to $124 million in the House budget. Gov. Nikki Haley has pledged to add $100 million in state revenue for road repair.

“Our economy depends on our roads,” McCarter said. “If we don’t deal with congestion in York County, our economy stagnates.”

Many of York County roads are operating at a “D” or “F”, McCarter said. The designations are used by traffic engineers to measure the flow of traffic. At “D,” the ability to maneuver within the traffic stream is limited and driver comfort levels decrease. At “F” there is a breakdown in traffic flow, with vehicles moving in lockstep with each other and there is frequent slowing or stopping.

McCarter said the goal for area roads should be “B,” in which traffic is flowing and motorists have a high level of physical and psychological comfort.

“The public wants good roads,” McCarter said.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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