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Nuckles: SC Highway System Nation’s 33rd Largest, Not Fourth

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DEBUNKING THE PRO-GAS TAX SPIN …

|| By SARAH NUCKLES || Senate president Hugh Leatherman and his allies in the S.C. General Assembly want to raise our gas tax 12 cents per gallon from 48th LOWEST in the nation to 22nd HIGHEST – higher even than neighboring Georgia (which has more than twice South Carolina’s population and twice the lane miles of road to maintain).  But, South Carolina only ranks 33rd in the nation in lane miles , so why do lawmakers want to raise the gas tax so high?

Because lobbying groups like the S.C. Alliance to Fix our Roads (SCFOR), TRIP and the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) have pounded into the voters’ and legislators’ brains for years that South Carolina has the “4th HIGHEST number of roads in the Nation and the 48th LOWEST gas tax” to maintain them with.  The SCDOT even trumpeted these numbers in its annual report (.pdf here) presented to the legislature last February by the Secretary of Transportation, Janet Oakley.  The report states on page nineteen (in bold red letters) that ours is the fourth largest system, but they place that right next to the lane miles – which leads the reader to believe that the lane miles are also fourth lowest. They are not!

In fact, South Carolina’s lane miles are lower than 32 other states.  Although the figure 41,414 miles and fourth largest road system in the nation have been thrown around a great deal, the facts are substantially different.  Road miles – or centerline miles –  measure only the distance of a road.  Lane miles on the other hand measure the distance and lane count of a road, lending a more accurate measure of the true size of a highway network.

The actual amount of asphalt South Carolina has to maintain – as measured by lane miles, not road miles – ranks 33rd in the nation, not fourth.  This is just another big example of the misrepresentation of the actual status of our road system and the cost to maintain it, i.e. the grossly exaggerated costs to fix our broken roads by consultants/contractors who directly benefit.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) says South Carolina has 140,106 lane miles – including urban/rural local roads – a very big difference but, more important, far less lane miles than 32 other States.  Even eliminating the local roads in the FHWA chart still ranks SC at 28th in the nation (.pdf here).

SO – if South Carolina ranks 33rd nationally in road miles to maintain, why are Leatherman and his allies trying to increase our gas tax to the 22nd highest in the nation? Are they ignorant of our state’s true rankings because they have been given misleading information for years?  Or is it politically easier using misleading numbers to get more money for unranked, politically-based expansion projects (like the $100 million for Highway 51 from Leatherman’s hometown of Florence to Pamplico)?  Or for politically motivated projects like I-73, or I-526?  Clearly, maintenance has not been a priority in many years.

If the South Carolina Senate really wants to fix poorly maintained roads as the voters have asked, then it needs to provide the abundance of taxpayer-provided surplus funds it has this year – and estimated for years to come – specifically to resurface bad roads and rebuild bad bridges.  Why should the Senate increase the gas tax when it can raise almost $400 million dollars now and in the future without raising taxes!

State/ Total Lane Miles (Urban and Rural)

1. Texas – 675,580
2. California – 394,608
3. Illinois – 305,872
4. Kansas – 287,100
5. Minnesota – 285,084
6. Missouri – 273,589
7. Georgia – 271,920
8. Florida – 271,024
9. Ohio – 262,851
10. Michigan – 256,806
11. Pennsylvania – 250,199
12. New York – 242,395
13. Wisconsin – 238,025
14. Iowa – 234,793
15. Oklahoma – 234,633
16. North Carolina – 225,168
17. Alabama – 213,068
18. Arkansas – 209,159
19. Indiana – 203,569
20. Tennessee – 202,185
21. Nebraska – 190,716
22. Colorado – 184,289
23. North Dakota – 176,509
24. Washington – 171,031
25. South Dakota – 167,652
26. Kentucky – 165,944
27. Virginia – 161,914
28. Mississippi – 156,999
29. Montana – 152,940
30. New Mexico – 147,600
31. Oregon – 146,468
32. Arizona – 144,393
33. South Carolina – 140,106
34. Louisiana – 130,038
35. Idaho – 98,649
36. Utah – 97,448
37. New Jersey – 85,557
38. Nevada – 85,323
39. West Virginia – 79,891
40. Massachusetts – 76,852
41. Maryland – 71,126
42. Wyoming – 60,454
43. Maine – 46,879
44. Connecticut – 45,744
45. New Hampshire – 33,156
46. Alaska – 31,618
47. Vermont – 29,301
48. Delaware – 13,849
49. Rhode Island – 12,915
50. Hawaii – 9,662
51. District of Columbia – 3,418

Sarah Nuckles served as a South Carolina transportation commissioner from 2008-2012.

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