Report: S.C. not spending enough to fix dangerous roads

COLUMBIA -- Someone dies on a South Carolina road about every eight hours.

The emotional toll is tremendous, but a report released Tuesday by a group of business leaders also puts an economic price tag on the carnage inflicted by the state's dangerous roads $3.7 billion a year.

That's $863 per South Carolinian to cover medical costs, lost economic and household productivity, psychological or emotional trauma, property damage and travel delays, according to the report by the nonprofit The Road Information Program's study of 2005 federal data.

Given the enormity of those economic repercussions, the state is not spending enough to fix the problem, the report contends.

The survey, commissioned by the S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads a coalition of chambers of commerce and business and government leaders ranked the 100 most dangerous rural secondary roads across the state from 2002-2006.

Rural roads a greater threat

While the statewide traffic fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled was 52 percent higher than the national average in 2005, the report showed, rural roads fare even worse.

The traffic fatality rate on rural South Carolina roads in 2005 was the highest in the nation at 4.61 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the report says.

To bring non-interstate roadways and bridges up to safety standards would cost the state $1.9 billion a year for the next 20 years, said Ike McLeese, president of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, citing an S.C. Department of Transportation estimate.

"We can't have economic development until we get infrastructure issues, including transportation, straightened out in the rural areas," he said.

It's an important issue for people considering moving a business to the state, visiting, or living in the state, McLeese said.

For instance, someone operating a fleet of vehicles will consider the cost of insurance and safety issues, he said.

The Department of Transportation is spending $16 million annually on its Crash Reduction by Improving Safety On Secondaries program adding rumble strips, relocating utility poles and improving signage and lane markings, the report states.

"The state has started to move positively in that direction," said Frank Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP.

DOT 'hampered' by funding

But the Department of Transportation is "hampered" by a "lack of adequate funding" to address traffic safety concerns it identified, Moretti said.

Reaction from lawmakers already facing the prospect of slicing state spending for the coming year because of shaky revenue projections was less than supportive.

"Did he give us a list of state agencies to eliminate?" said Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee. Cooper says he'd like to see how the state Department of Transportation is spending the money it receives.

The S.C. Alliance to Fix Our Roads is backing three bills idling in the Legislature that would provide more funding for highway improvements.

One would set up a transportation maintenance fund, dedicating 2 percent of the state's general revenue of the latest completed fiscal year.

Two others would direct taxes from sales of vehicles into the state highway fund. One of those two also would match those funds with federal funds.