The AAA Carolinas ranked 20 bridges in South Carolina as “substandard.” The bridges were either “structurally deficient,” meaning the bridges were in relatively poor physical condition or unable to handle truck weight, or they were “functionally obsolete” and inadequately designed for today’s traffic.
The Columbia Business Report says AAA Carolinas reports the worst bridge is on I-26 that passes over the C.N. and L. Railroad, three miles northwest of downtown Columbia. The 55-year-old bridge, which handles 547,000 vehicles weekly, has been ranked at the top of AAA Carolinas’ list of worst bridges every year since 2000, except in 2009, when it slipped to No. 2. Six of the worst bridges in South Carolina are on Interstate 26, between Columbia and Charleston, according to AAA Carolinas.
The AAA report was released in the final days of the state Legislature, which is trying to reach an agreement on how much money to include in a proposed $22.7 billion budget to fix the state’s roads and bridges. “Inadequate funding for road and bridge maintenance over the past decade means we still have a significant number of substandard bridges in South Carolina,” said David Parsons, president and CEO of the auto club. “We need to find new resources of funding for our state’s Department of Transportation.”
A S.C. Department of Transportation study shows the state faces a $29 billion funding shortfall for fixing roads and bridges over the next 20 years. The agency also estimates the loss to businesses from choked and limited-access roads and bridges at $2.6 billion over seven years. The Legislature is mulling a proposal to take $50 million a year from the State Infrastructure Bank and leverage it for a $500 million bond issue aimed at fixing roads and bridges. Another proposal to borrow $1.3 billion and help pay for it by raising fees and the gasoline tax appears parked in the Senate.
The S.C. Department of Transportation has been dealing with budget shortfalls for years. In 2007, the agency began increasing money for bridge replacement and rehabilitation from $65 million to the present level of $119 million. The Legislature and governor “have expressed focusing any additional resources available on bridges to ensure safety and to support economic development,” said S.C. Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge.
“SCDOT has also rebalanced our three-phased approach to bridge maintenance that includes replacement, rehabilitation and preservation projects,” St. Onge said. “This approach enables us to get the maximum service life out of our structures for the most economical cost.” S.C. business leaders say improving and fixing I-26 from the Upstate to the Port of Charleston is a top economic development priority, labeling the highway the “lifeblood of commerce” in South Carolina.
The rest of the top-six worst bridges on I-26 and average weekly traffic are:
◾Southern Railway crossing, Lexington County, three miles west of West Columbia, 568,400 vehicles.
◾S.C. 7, Charleston County, in North Charleston, 616,000.
◾S.C. 302, Lexington County, two miles southwest of West Columbia, 539,700.
◾U.S. 1, Lexington County, one mile west of West Columbia, 530,600.
◾Midland Park Road, Charleston County, one mile west of North Charleston, 436,800.
Charleston County had the most bridges on the top-20 list with seven, while Richland and Lexington counties each had three bridges on the list.
The AAA Carolinas’ 2013 rankings also found, overall, 1,823 bridges are substandard, down 57 from the 1,880 bridges listed in AAA’s 2012 report. The average age of the top-20 substandard bridges is 53 years, compared with 57 last year. South Carolina has the lowest highway funding per mile in the country, with the fourth-largest state-maintained highway system, covering more than 41,000 miles.
The S.C. Department of Transportation is responsible for 8,157 bridges; substandard bridges account for 22% of all South Carolina bridges. The counties with the highest number of substandard bridges are Spartanburg, 137; Greenville,134; Charleston, 115; and Anderson, 97, but counties with the highest percentage of substandard bridges are Charleston, 42%; Lancaster, 40%; Edgefield, 34%; and Aiken, 31%. AAA Carolinas’ rankings are based on sufficiency ratings and traffic counts provided by the state Transportation Department.