The welfare lane

Nov. 29, 2001
If you find a dollar on the sidewalk in South Carolina, notify the department of transportation immediately

If you find a dollar on the sidewalk in South Carolina, notify the department of transportation immediately.

Any kind of funding would help a region in desperate need of a raise in allowance. The state finished slightly below revenues for the previous fiscal year, forcing officials to review the South Carolina DOT's highway policy and how it compares to other states.

"Our short-term strategy is to hold on for dear life and hope for an adjustment in 2003 for some addtional state money," Mike Covington, director of government affairs for SCDOT, told ROADS&BRIDGES.

Funds have hit rock bottom nationwide. In a report released in early November, the National Council of State Legislatures found 44 states where revenues were less than predicted and 28 that have cut spending or are considering such a move. Fourteen unions have frozen hiring, set limits on employee travel expenses or cancelled capital projects.

The gas tax has stalled growth in South Carolina. According to Covington, 95% of the state's highway funding comes from the pump--and its been 14 years since any adjustments were made.

"We have been dealing with a gradual reduction in services for 14 years," he said. "We've only experienced an annual fuel tax growth of 2%, and the only way to put more fuel tax money is to put more cars out on the road."

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century has been a savior and a stumbling block. When the funding formula was improved for donor states South Carolina received the biggest percentage increase of federal funding in the nation. However, with the bonus came a 100% increase in the requirement for state matching dollars.

"TEA-21 is allowing us to pursue a very aggressive construction program on primary and interstate routes, which is sorely needed," said Covington. "We have made a business decision not to turn down any kind of federal money."

But the acceptance fee has forced South Carolina to set zero dollars aside for the resurfacing of secondary roads. A hard blow considering 65% of the roads are state maintained.

"We have an awful lot of roads in our state system that do not qualify for federal funding, and what has happened is we've had to take money from the maintenance of the secondary roads, which were already at a minimum, and shift it over to our federal program so we can match federal money," said Covington. "Our biggest safety concerns lie in our secondary roads."

In 2002, South Carolina plans to continue its aggressive construction program on interstates and primary routes, but all other funding could be cut even more.

"We have asked the legislature for additional funding. Even if it's only stop-gap funding, if they can provide enough so that we can get back in the resurfacing business on the secondary roads we would be on the right track," said Covington.

The Colorado DOT is trying to patch a 20% cut in budget. The agency did not receive approximately $170 million in state transportation funding it was expecting in 2001. As a result, six major projects have been deferred until the next fiscal year.

"A portion of our budget comes from the general fund and it's a transfer of a portion of the sales tax, and those funds simply did not materialize," CDOT spokesman Dan Hopkins told ROADS&BRIDGES. Hopkins blames the cold economy and the events of Sept. 11 for the setback. "The transportation commission does not have to turn in its final budget until April, so we'll be working with the legislature to see what kind of fiscal projections come about."

Colorado's hardship will not slow down any project currently under contract, including the massive T-REX. However, enhancements planned for the I-25 overhaul have been cancelled.