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Transportation Advisory Board Meeting June 22

Pressing need to resurface State and County controlled roads. Sales tax should help reduce backlog of work on both
Marc Knapp

The education process continued at yesterday's meeting of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). There were presentations from a number of entities but that from the Charleston County Transportation Committee (CTC) stood out. Delivered by Mr. Howard Chapman, the CEO of CARTA, one wonders why the protagonists of the half cent sales tax did not draw more information from the CTC to make their case for a "yes" vote in the referendum last year. Mr. Chapman highlighted the deficiencies of Charleston's roads, how the cost of resurfacing rises sharply the longer the roads are neglected, and the large backlog of work.

Chairman of County Council says Ordinance defines TAB's role
The Chairman of the County Council, Mr Leon Stavrinakis made the first presentation, about the role of the TAB. He was followed by Deputy Administrator of the County, Mr. Keith Bustraan who spoke on the same subject. Both saw the role as that defined in the Ordinance that created the TAB and GAB. They did not address the issue as to whether the role was too narrowly defined. From the tenor of Mr Bustraan's presentation, he probably thought the ordinance properly defined it. Both saw the gathering of public opinion and ranking of projects as a primary role for the TAB.

Just for the record, three members of the Board did not attend yesterday's meeting, Ms. Michele Sinkler, Mr. Preston Hipp and Mr. Hernan Pena. The latter two members sent along proxies who made no comments during the meeting. The TAB has had three meetings so far this year and Mr. Hipp, who is Council member Bostic's appointment, has failed to attend two.

Presentations from the 3 main road authorities
As well as the CTC, Deputy Administrator of the County, Mr.Keith Bustraan made presentation on behalf of Public Works and Mr Ron Mitchum made a short presentation on behalf of CHATS. Mr. Mitchum also spoke at the last TAB meeting. Many viewers already know the role of the respective entities but for those that don't, it can be summarized as follows.

The responsibility of CHATS lies primarily with major roads. It draws its fund mainly from the Federal government. The responsibility of CTC lies mainly with secondary roads, most of which are State owned and maintained. Understandably, most of its funding comes from the State but more on this later. What is left is the responsibility of the County and these essentially are the minor roads. The funding for these roads has come largely from property taxes and in future, the County will be able to draw on the half-cent sales tax proceeds.

The division between the responsibilities of each of the entities is not necessarily sharp. CTC has acted on behalf of CHATS on occasions and the County on behalf of the CTC.

CTC funding to rise sharply
Funding for the CTC has been drawn largely from the State. It receives a share of the tax levied on gasoline sales through a formula based on population and the "miles of farm to market roads". Last year, the tax under the formula brought in $2.3 million. There is also a Donor Fund which is supposed to remove the inequities of the tax distribution to ensure that counties receive back what they paid in tax. This fund contributed $1.3 million last year so the total CTC funds amounted to about $3.6 million. However, the CTC will also be able to draw on sales tax funds in future and in the 2006 budget, it has anticipated $4 million for resurfacing and $2 million for new projects. So funding this year should be in the order of near $10 million.

But there is a large backlog
According to Mr. Chapman, the CTC needs the funding, and much more. Here is the reasoning. The CTC has obligation relating to about 1550 miles of road in the County. There is close to 37 years of backlog for road resurfacing and repair. This reflects the years of neglect and the exponential increase in work necessary with the passage of time since the last major repair and resurfacing. He quoted figures indicating that the cost of resurfacing a road which is 10 years or less in age averages $68,000 a mile. But the average cost for resurfacing for roads that have gone 10 and 14 years without maintenance is $110,000 a mile and 14 to 19 years, about $128,000 a mile. For roads neglected for 20 years or more, the average cost of resurfacing and repair is an estimated $266,000 a mile. Obviously there is a smooth progression of costs per mile when plotted against time since the previous resurfacing, but Mr. Chapman extracted these figures to better highlight the rising costs. He said that about $60 million would be needed to bring all the County roads that fall under the CTC jurisdiction up to a satisfactory standard. Once all the roads are brought up to standard, it would probably cost about $7 to $8 million a year to properly maintain them all.

State could help some more
Could the State contribute more to the CTC? After all it is supposed to maintain State Roads. The answer is yes but it is unlikely to be large amounts. The CTC has received $9.7 million over the last 10 years from the SC DOT for resurfacing and presumably could receive more funds. But the distribution depends more on the resources of the State than anything else.

Mr. Chapman also made the point that the board of the CTC has representation of the Cities and members at large. There is a strict list of priorities and that political considerations have no influence on the delineation of priorities.

CTC likely to be back for more funds
I expect to see the CTC coming back to the County next year and beyond to seek more funds to restore County Roads to satisfactory standards. Prima facie, it would seem a reasonable request. And there would be little opposition. Most citizens would agree that secondary roads are in poor condition and need to be repaired. There is no issue of creating development opportunities, destroying the character of neighborhoods or the environment, or creating traffic problems, issues that were on the minds of many opponents to the half-cent sales tax.

County has large backlog too
Mr.Keith Bustraan of the County made a similar presentation to that by Mr. Chapman and had a similar conclusion. The County had a backlog of about 40 to 50 dirt roads. About 12 of these would get attention over the next year following the receipt of sales tax money. Of the remainder, 12 roads had been designed and rights of way negotiated, They were simply waiting on funding. Another 20 roads had been designed but were waiting for final right of way authority. The problem of funding the County's roads is clearly much less than that for the CTC. The cost of resurfacing the 10 roads over the next year is projected at about $1 million. So if the unit costs and mileage were similar, the County could reduce the backlog with about $5 million.

Mr. Bustraan also told the TAB that it would probably take the consultant, to be hired by the County, about 8 months to complete the Comprehensive Transport Plan called for in the Ordinance that creaed the TAB, He didn't quite say it but the inference was that there was little of substance the TAB could do until the Plan was received.

Marc Knapp is a member of the Transport Advisory Board

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