State transportation leaders wanted to find the most dangerous roads on their books. York, Lancaster and Chester counties offered several.
More than 60 fatal or serious injury crashes on local stretches of I-77 and rural highways put dozens of miles of roadway on the map to receive funding for repairs. Those crashes and that mileage are a small part of a larger state puzzle in need of solving.
“Improving safety on the state highway system remains the No. 1 priority,” said Christy Hall, state transportation secretary. “South Carolina has the highest fatality rate in the nation.”
As part of an ambitious 10-year plan, brought on by a 2017 change in state transportation funding, from an incremental gas tax increase, the South Carolina Department of Transportation is evaluating and engineering fixes for rural roads, interstates, bicycle and pedestrian paths and more.
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Newly released, prioritized lists of the roads are up for public review and comment through Aug. 24.
Two local stretches of interstate made the list.
A 31-mile section of I-77 in York and Chester counties came in at No. 3. There were 37 reported fatal or serious injury crashes from mile markers 60 to 90. Crash data covers a five-year period through 2016.
That run of interstate travels from the Fort Lawn and Richburg areas, up past all the Rock Hill exits and through Fort Mill and Tega Cay interchanges, to Carowinds and the state line.
The 37 crashes put that part of Interstate 77 behind only a 41-mile section of I-26 in Charleston (101 crashes) and a 30-mile section of I-26 in Orangeburg and Dorchester counties (47).
In June, an Ohio man died when the truck he was driving overturned near mile marker 63 in Chester County. That same month, one person died and two more were injured in a collision near mile marker 80 near Rock Hill. A Chester woman died late last year on I-77 near Fort Mill, when she ran off the road and hit a highway camera before overturning.
Last fall, a mother and son were killed in a wreck, a Rock Hill man was killed in Chester County and a pedestrian was killed crossing the interstate in Rock Hill — all within about a month of each other.
The other local dangerous road pick was one of two interstate projects that made the list, despite not having serious crashes. One was an 11-mile extension of the I-26 listing in Charleston, the No. 1 overall interstate safety project. The other involves the piece of I-77 between exit 90 and the North Carolina line.
In all, nine projects spanning 222 miles of interstate — all parts of I-77, I-85, I-26 or I-20 — made the list.
Rural roads can prove as dangerous as interstates, despite less traffic volume. Which is why transportation experts have a separate list for them. The rural road safety program list picks out the worst of the worst, Hall said.
“This new program targets corridors that comprise only 5 percent of our network, yet represent 30 percent of the fatal and serious injury crashes occurring on rural roads,” Hall said.
Lancaster County has the highest priority listing in the tri-county area. Almost 12 miles of Cedar Creek Road is No. 3. Two combined projects there run from the Chester to the Kershaw county lines. There have been seven serious crashes there.
Rural road crash data also covers five years, but runs through 2015.
Two more Lancaster County listings come in at Nos. 38 and 39. Both involve Flat Creek Road, along Hilldale Drive and Josh Log Road up to the Kershaw county line. They combine for almost 22 miles of road and eight serious crashes.
Chester County has three projects. All are tied for No. 20 on the list. Almost 10 miles of Great Falls Highway, from Old Catholic Church Road to Pendergrass Boulevard, has had six fatal or serious crashes. The other two listed projects are connected, at less than a mile each on Pendergrass, Francis Avenue and Catawba Road.
Only one western York County project made the list. There have been six serious crashes on almost 10 miles of Black Highway, from the Cherokee County line to Kinglet Drive. That road came in at No. 18.
The overall rural safety list includes 70 projects and 446 miles of roadway.
Separate DOT listings came out for bicycle and pedestrian needs, and road safety assessments. No projects from York, Lancaster or Chester counties made those lists.
The state recently finished the first year of a decade-long plan to improve safety. That first year put 187 miles of rural roads under contract for work to improve congestion, intersection alignments and more.
“This is well ahead of our annual goal of 100 miles,” said Ben Davis, chairman of the SCDOT Commission.
Exactly how the interstates and rural roads might be fixed hasn’t been determined, and it won’t be until the funding is approved. The recent lists are for the 2019-’20 fiscal year.
In a separate listing up for public comment, the state continues its funding for public transit vehicles. The latest phase of vehicle replacement funding would combine $5.29 million in state and federal funding for 12 agencies. Among them are Lancaster Area Ride Service and the York County Council on Aging, at a matching $323,529.
The local and state agencies provide bus or on-demand ride services for people, often used to get to and from medical appointments or for other basic needs. Programs often have high usage rates among seniors.