Politics & Government

SC roads more deadly than war, agency says, outlining safety plan

South Carolina Deadly Roads - A family's story

Amy and David Lee lost their 19-year-old daughter Grayson Ann Lee, when she ran off the road and hit a tree in the median near mile marker 183 on I-26 in 2014. The Lees say the area should have been lined with cable barriers which could have saved their daughter's life.
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Amy and David Lee lost their 19-year-old daughter Grayson Ann Lee, when she ran off the road and hit a tree in the median near mile marker 183 on I-26 in 2014. The Lees say the area should have been lined with cable barriers which could have saved their daughter's life.

Nearly 1,000 people — 975 — died on S.C. roads last year.

Those deaths are more than the highest death toll in a single year during Operation Iraqi Freedom — 961 coalition military deaths in 2007 — and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan — 711 deaths in 2010, according to the Iraq Coalition Casuality Count.

"It would be safer for me to send my kids to war at the peak of conflict" than for them to drive on S.C. roads, state traffic engineer Tony Fallaw told the commission that oversees the state Transportation Department Thursday.

In an effort to make S.C. roads safer, the roads agency Thursday unveiled a rural road safety program.

"Our roads are the deadliest in the nation by far," said roads chief Christy Hall.

South Carolina’s deadliest roads are not just rural back roads. The state’s deadly rural roads include interstates and primary roads in rural areas, some of the most-trafficked highways in the state.

In part, S.C. highways are deadly because the state spends little to maintain its roads and bridges by clearing ditches, patching potholes and replacing damaged signs, Transportation Department officials.

The rural road safety program initially would cost an added $50 million a year, Hall estimated. The agency cannot fund that program with its current budget, she said, adding more money will be needed from either the state or federal government.

However, that $50 million is just a step.

The Transportation Department has estimated it needs an extra $943 million a year to make the state’s deteriorating roads safer, including spending $500 million to re-pave crumbling highways.

Hall unveiled the safety plan a day after House GOP leaders introduced a proposal to raise the state’s 16.75-cent-a-gallon gas tax by 10 cents over five years. That increase, along with raising other driving fees, is expected to raise roughly $600 million a year when implemented.

Nearly 60 percent of South Carolina’s traffic fatalities from 2011 through 2015 occurred on rural roads, according to the Transportation Department.

The state’s roads agency plans to analyze each road and work with local officials to come up with improved safety features.

Those safety features will aim to keep vehicles on the road. They include new and updated guard rails and rumble strips, which alert drivers they are at the road’s edge.

Other safety improvements would include design upgrades to give drivers who run off the road an opportunity to get back on the highway. Those improvements include wider, paved shoulders and clear areas along the highways.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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