I-TEAM: SC has already collected close to $1B from gas tax to improve roads, but only paid out less than half to road projects

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Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

Are South Carolina roads getting better after the state voted to increase the gas tax? (Source: WRDW)

COLUMBIA, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- South Carolina has already collected $875,076,510 with the new gas tax to fix the state's crumbling roads.

But to date, we found only $420,917,101 of those dollars have been paid out to actual projects.

With the state having the nation’s highest fatality rate for the second year running at nearly double the national average, it’s not exactly bumper sticker material.

“Yeah,” South Carolina driver Carnisha Dean said. “A lot of potholes. I've messed my car up plenty of times on those.”

When drivers like Dean hit those potholes, Robert, a tire technician for Jim’s Best One Tire and Service, ends up making a lot of house calls – or in his case, highway calls.

As a technician, he mostly repairs tires, and he gets a lot of calls from the South Carolina side of the river.

“Pretty much all the time,” Robert said.

For 2 1/2 years, we've all been paying more at the pump to fix South Carolina's crumbling roads. Car registration costs have nearly doubled, and we've also started paying higher sales tax on our cars.

So, with nearly a billion dollars in the bank, where are the changes?

Our I-Team found Aiken County is in line to receive $21 million for 131 miles of paving projects. But to date, only 33 percent of those projects have been completed so far in our biggest county.

For our more rural counties, the news is a little better.
• Allendale - $4.8 million for 44 miles of paving. 73% has been completed.
• Bamberg - $5.9 million for 65 miles of paving. 60% has been completed.
• Barnwell - $7 million for 46 miles of paving. 61% completed.
• Edgefield - $11.6 million for 62.67 miles of paving. 71.3% completed.
• McCormick - $3.2 million for 29 miles of paving. 59% completed.
• Saluda - $9.9 million for 27.15 miles of paving. 62% completed.

Meanwhile, drivers like Dean are feeling the pothole pain in their wallet.

“I had another car where I ended up messing up my wheels,” Dean said. “And getting a line-up is very expensive.”

Robert says if anything, over the last two and a half years, the calls for help on these bumpy, pothole-filled roads have increased.

“Just as many,” Robert said. “Even more.”

But despite what feels like a painfully slow process, the South Carolina Department of Transportation claims they are right on schedule.

They tell us they planned a steady increase of projects over the years, to coincide with the construction industry's ability to respond to it. Based on their own chart, they say, the amount of work being done is historic.

But is it enough?

We found while the state works to play catch up on years of neglected road work, the payouts climb for damage, injuries, and even deaths from accidents caused by unsafe roads.

Our I-Team found in the past fiscal year alone, South carolina paid out over $20 million in losses, and that's not counting the out of pocket expenses for those who can't afford the time or money to hire an attorney to fight the state.

There is hope for drivers. If you damage your car or are involved in an accident caused by unsafe roads, you need to make sure to take a lot of photos of the road conditions. Document as much as you can.

Most of the time, drivers get paid when they can prove SCDOT knew about the problem for a while, and did nothing to fix it. So, the flip side of that. Make sure if you see a bad pothole or a dangerous road condition that you drive on every day to report it.

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