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The State of the SCDOT

It’s been nearly two years since Act 40 passed, and Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall made it explicitly clear this week that the revenues provided by Act 40 will help get our roads and bridges to a state of good repair; however, there will still be tremendous needs across the state.

 

Secretary Hall presented her 2019 State of SCDOT to the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, taking a sincere and straightforward approach to addressing progress to date and the challenges that lie ahead.  Hall was joined by SCDOT leadership, staff, and members of the SCDOT Commission.

 

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Senator Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) noted that the State of the SCDOT is some of the most important information Senators receive all session because roads and bridges are critically essential and impact every citizen of the state.  We couldn’t agree more. 

 

Secretary Hall provided a high-level summary of progress to date, noting that the agency was well on their way to delivering what they had promised and planned.   She also highlighted some of the future funding challenges facing the state including non-interstate capacity needs, interchange improvements, transit, and the renewal of federal funding/programs.

 
When it comes to pavements, Secretary Hall was quick to say she would never promise there would be no potholes, but she did believe that the planned investment levels would sustain the pavement program.  $700 million will be spent over the next ten years to improve the quality of pavements; however, it will take roughly 20-21 years before the vast majority of pavements are in good shape across the state. 
Secretary Hall noted that funding for the MPO/COG program has remained stagnant over the years; therefore, any new federal money or other revenues that the agency receives in the future, the MPO/COG program would be one of the top areas up for future consideration of the Commission. Additional funding for these programs would help address non-interstate capacity needs across the state.
Addressing Growth & Mobility
Senator Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) expressed concerns with the need for interstate capacity and bridge alternatives in some regions of the state, primarily the Charleston area which continues to see a tremendous amount of growth.

Secretary Hall noted that the agency currently had a few feasibility studies going on in the Charleston area to create options that could be presented for public input.  In addition, she said that areas of the state continuing to see explosive growth were also looking at interchange and transit options to improve mobility – which are just more tools in the toolbox when it comes to relieving congestion. 

However, she reiterated that the agency is not a point where current funding can address congestion.

Can Local Option Sales Taxes Help? 
Senator Wes Climer (R-York) inquired about the "needs in excess of what the current funding levels could do."  He specifically questioned the feasibility of incentivizing local option sales taxes.  Senator Climer said that local option sales tax could be considered “a force multiplier for what SCDOT is doing” and wanted to know if the current funding formulas incentivized or deterred locals from implementing local option sales taxes for transportation. (Climer’s district in York County has seen significant benefits from their local option sales tax over the years.)

Secretary Hall noted that the current formula was based on the number of miles, not the condition of the roads, dispelling the myth that counties may see a decrease in revenue if their roads are in better condition. She added that often, local option sales taxes help get more done faster – especially when it comes to paving.  However, she noted that the return on investment could be smaller when it comes to capacity projects. 

Secretary Hall added that all counties are not created equal and in certain areas, local options would not be possible; however, she asserted that the goal is to lift the system as a whole, and this remains a top priority of the agency working in conjunction with the CTCs and State Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
Industry Response
Secretary Hall praised industry partners for ramping up their operations and noted that the state has seen 18 new contractors bidding on projects.
Improving All Aspects of the System
At the close of the meeting, Senator Grooms thanked Secretary Hall for continuing to carry out the daunting task of improving the state’s roads and the strategic planning of the agency to ensure that the system was improved as a whole without making certain program areas suffer. 

There is a chance that Secretary Hall may be invited back to a future Transportation Committee meeting to take any questions that the committee did not have time to address on Wednesday. Stay tuned...
 
How are the new revenues in the IMTF being used?  They go towards directly towards fixing roads and bridges, increased funds to CTCs, and to cover the motor fuel/preventative maintenance tax credit. (All prescribed in Act 40.) You can follow the money in the Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund on a monthly basis here.  
DUI-E Bill Advances to House Floor
This week the House Education & Public Works Committee voted 11-3 to send legislation banning texting while driving (H.3355) to the House floor for debate.  The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken), and it aims to strengthen distracted driving laws in South Carolina by increasing penalties for drivers who use their phones behind the wheel. 

Under the plan, drivers would be fined $200 for using a cellphone or other electronic device in their hands. Drivers could talk on the phone with a hands-free device or use the GPS app on their phone or other electronic devices as long as they entered their destination before driving.

Debate on the bill is expected to begin next week.
SCFOR PRESS:  SCDOT Making Progress on Roadway Projects; No Quick Fix for $11 billion Undertaking - The Summerville Journal Scene
The impact of a roads funding bill passed by the South Carolina General Assembly mid-2017 is unfolding, as bridges and other crumbling infrastructure receive repair work statewide; but the initiative to overhaul the state's decaying road system, and bring it up to par, has a billion-dollar price tag and is far from completion.

That was the bittersweet message—and not a new one—a local business crowd heard this month from Robby Robbins, chairman of the South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission and commissioner for the First Congressional District, and Jennifer Patterson, director of South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads.  Continue reading the full article from the Journal Scene here.
Former SCDOT Commissioner Jim Rozier Passes Away
Former SCDOT Commissioner Jim Rozier passed away this week at the age of 77 after an illness.  He was appointed to the SCDOT Commission, representing the 1st Congressional District in 2012 and served as Chairman of the Commission in 2015. The Post and Courier gave a wonderful tribute to a life well lived this week, highlighting Rozier's life and legacy.  View the coverage here.

ARTBA Call Provides Updates on Feds and Other States

SCFOR participated in a conference call this week with ARTBA’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Council.  Dean Franks, ARTBA’s Senior Vice President, Congressional Relations, provided some insight and predictions for Congress to begin work on an infrastructure plan.

 

According to Franks, progress is being made on the border wall/security funding and groups are hopeful that a resolution will be reached by next Friday, which will wrap up the seven appropriations bills that are still looming.  (This includes transportation funding.) 

Once the agreement is reached, Congress can then move towards working on their agenda, which includes infrastructure and is something that President Trump touted in his State of the Union as a bipartisan goal.

 

It is expected that the Trump administration will outline principles of what they believe should be included in any infrastructure plan as they will likely deviate from the 2018 plan.  This new approach will probably suggest more direct spending at the federal level rather than shifting responsibilities to state and local governments. 

There will be a new reauthorization bill up next year, and there is a chance Congress may use the reauthorization as a base for any infrastructure package.  No matter which route they take, a revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) should be a vital component of any infrastructure package. 


The good news (and bad news) is a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report released last week shows that the HTF will have enough money to get through FY21-22, which buys another year. Since passage of the FAST Act in 2015, funding sources related to freight (i.e., truck taxes and diesel fuel taxes) have increased because of the strong economy.  Depending on how things play out, this news of an “extra year” could make it easier to kick the can down the road.

What’s Going on in Other States?

Carolyn Kramer, Director of ARTBA’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Center, provided an update on state legislation introduced to date. As of January 31, 2019,  87 bills in 29 states have been introduced to increase transportation infrastructure investments.

  •  Motor fuel taxes continue to be a popular method to raise new revenue. 10 States have introduced legislation to adjust or increase taxes on fuel.
  • Continuing a trend from previous years, seven states are proposing electric vehicle fees as a way to ensure all vehicles that create wear and tear on roads pay for their share of maintenance. (5 of those states include fees on hybrids.)
  • Mileage-based user fees are being considered in three states. (1 of those states is proposing a study.)
  • Three states have introduced legislation to utilize tolling for new revenue.
Additional details can be found in the 2019 State Transportation Overview.
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Hears Pitch to Raise Gas Tax
If the experience of newly elected Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) is any indication, campaigning on raising the gas tax isn’t political suicide. It’s a path to victory.

Speaking Feb. 7 before a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) under its new chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Walz detailed how he won last November with a proactive stance on raising the state gas tax. He appeared at the hearing on behalf of the National Governors Association and acknowledged that not all its members agree with his stance. 

Panelists and committee members agreed that raising the tax by itself won’t solve America’s infrastructure crisis or be enough to replenish the depleted Highway Trust Fund. What’s needed, they said, is a combination of solutions that includes a gas tax increase, user or mileage fees, and a continuing emphasis on Public-Private Partnerships, or P3s.

Read the ARTBA Newsline article in its entirety here. 
2018 - 2019 Newsletter Archive
Copyright © 2019 South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads, All rights reserved.


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