COLUMBIA — If South Carolina doesn’t raise nearly $30 billion in new revenue during the next 20 years to pay for roads, bridge and mass transit, the state’s Transportation Department will be left to manage the decline of the system, the department’s chief says.
That assessment from Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge is part of a report by an infrastructure task force that studied the issues for a year.
“If the decline is allowed to continue, congestion and load restrictions will result in irreparable damage to the state’s economy,” the report states.
The state’s transportation funding is so far below regional and national norms that most money goes to highway maintenance and upkeep, the report states.
“It’s a big, big deal,” said Ken Willingham of Mount Pleasant, who served on the task force. “I don’t know how you can help but notice how bad the roads are. We’re just so far behind on our infrastructure.”
Lawmakers must deal with the situation because the DOT Commission is not empowered to raise new revenue for highways, Willingham said.
Legislative leaders say they’re uncertain whether transportation funding will be addressed next year in any meaningful way.
“I think the big bear when we go back in will be what to do about Medicaid expansion,” Senate President Pro Tem John Courson said. “Until we get Medicaid under control in South Carolina, I don’t see us going off on any other spending plan.”
The state will need $48.3 billion over the next 20 years for its infrastructure needs, according to the report, including $17 billion for highway system maintenance, $22 billion for highway and interstate upgrades, $3 billion for bridge replacement and $3.9 billion for mass transit.
But officials expect only a total of $19 billion in revenue over that period, meaning the state would need to find another $29.3 billion.
The state motor fuel tax, which has been 16 cents per gallon since 1987, is DOT’s main source of funding. Revenue from the tax has declined because of improved vehicle fuel efficiency and higher costs for gasoline and diesel fuel.
The fee for a state driver’s license, the lowest in the Southeast, could be increased by $1 to raise an additional $3.3 million annually. The automobile registration fee has been $12 for 25 years. A $1 increase in the fee would generate about $2 million a year.
“The consequences of inaction are clear and predictable,” the report states. “Deterioration of roads and bridges, reduced highway safety, the posting or closing of bridges, increased traffic congestion, increased vehicle upkeep and a loss of economic competitiveness.”