By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is using new gas tax revenue to reduce the state’s highest-in-the-nation rural roadway fatality rate.

Nearly 60 percent of the state’s highway deaths occur beyond its cities and suburbs, according to the agency. These are not only secondary roads, but also primary and interstate routes that are classified as rural roadways. A total of 6,812 crashes resulting in deaths or injury occurred during the period 2012-2016.

“Roadway departures are the key issue,” SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall said in a Nov. 10 keynote address to ARTBA’s Southern Regional meeting.

“We’ve taken a two-pronged approach: good pavement, paint, and rumble strips to prevent drivers from leaving the roadway,” she said. “If they do drift, we try to give them every opportunity to recover by providing wider shoulders, a clear ditch line, and reducing fixed objects, such as trees.”

To pay for these improvements and a backlog of other transportation work, the South Carolina legislature in 2017 increased the state gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, phased over six years in equal increments, the first such transportation investment increase in 30 years. SCDOT created a 10-year plan to address the rural safety issue and other transportation needs such as interstate widening, replacing structurally deficient bridges, and road resurfacing work.

Since 2017, the state has spent about $50 million in its Rural Roads Safety Programimproving 465 of 1,900 miles of targeted roadway, and repairing or replacing 161 of 465 designated bridges.

(SCDOT map)