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Transportation Advisory Board Meeting, July 20

Big backlog of Transportation work
Warwick Jones,. standing in temporarily for Marc Knapp

The meeting was primarily to better educate the members of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) about the financing of State and Federal Roads. But at the completion of the meeting, even the Chairman of the TAB confessed to gaps in his understanding, particularly in relation to matching grants. But one thing was obvious from the presentations; there is a very large backlog of work, not only on County roads but State as well.

The first part of Wednesday's meeting was taken up with presentations by staff of the Berkeley- Charleston - Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDOCG) on some of the roles of the Charleston Area Transportation Study (CHATS), the federally mandated body to oversee spending on Federal roads. And it was early in the presentations that one Board member signaled he was having a hard time understanding all the acronyms that were being thrown out.

CHATS strong forecasting role
The presentations were labeled "CHATS Travel Demand Model" and "Transportation Planning and Design". They told of the work attempted on forecasting such things as population trends, land use and employment. All of these and other things were used to make forecasts on which to project the need for roads. CHATS has developed a 20-year plan and is required to update it every 5 years. For a project to be eligible for Federal funding, it must be on the CHATS long-term plan. The folk at the BCGOCG were clearly very proud of the sophistication of their model and stated that the software allowed it to answer many of the "what if" questions in regard to future road development. It also noted that CHATS' long-term plan was the basis for many of projects defined for the recently imposed half-cent sales tax.

We took advantage to ask in the citizen participation period about the chronic situation developing on River Road on Johns Island. As an observer at Charleston City and County meetings, the Bees Ferry area, and River Road area on Johns Island, arguably, are facing the biggest potential traffic congestion problems than anywhere else in the County. The problems in the Bees Ferry area have been recognized and it remains high on the list to receive sales-tax funding. But why isn't River Road on the sales-tax list if CHATS is capable of making a respectable long-term forecast. The answer was two-fold. Firstly, Maybank Highway was on the list and this construction will aid River Road and secondly, CHATS has to rely on information passed on by the zoning and planning departments of the cities and County and this was not always accurate. Nor did a zoning or planning chane lead to immediate construction. Construction for a new subdivision could begin some years in the future and stretch over many years.

State well behind in meeting transportation needs
The South Carolina Department of Transportation also made a presentation. We found this to be of the most interest as it gave a perspective to State and Federal funding for transportation. It was not a bright picture.

The spokesman for the DOT produced some figures showing the 20 years funding need for the State's transportation. He broke it down but in total, the funding need amounts to $36.7 billion in present day dollars. This has to be set against the present level of funding which for 2005 is projected at $619 million. Simple arithmetic indicated that at the present rate of spending, there is a long backlog. And indeed, if the economy expands and there is a need for new roads then the backlog may well grow. Chairman Knott pushed the DOT to estimate the backlog in terms of years. Hard to say, it replied, but something like 40 to 50 years got a nod. The DOT suggested that more programs like the half-cent sales tax would be needed if the State were to ever get on top of the need.

Federal government provided about 80% of funds
Most of the financing for transportation in the State comes from the Federal Government and by way of the Motor Fuel tax. For Fiscal 2006, the State budget shows an appropriation of $506 million from the Motor Fuel tax. The State has to match this with other funds, mostly in the ratio of 20% to 80%. Consequently total estimated funding for transportation is $619 million - $506 million Federal sourced and $113 million State sourced.

The table attached press here shows the breakdown of State spending. We don't pretend to understand all the categories. However, we do know that only about $114 million of the total $619 million is allocated directly to cities and municipalities of the State. The balance is spend directly by the DOT or allocated directly to other transport related projects. Chairman Knott asked roughly how much of this balance went to Charleston County but the answer was not known.

Tricounty area gets about 14% of available funds
The table attached also shows the distribution of the $115 million for the cities and municipalities. Note also that under the Federal system, counties and municipalities are melded together into the same form as BCDCOG and CHATS. The DOT spokesman noted that there is a formula that is worked by the Federal and State Governments in relation to the allocation of the Motor Fuel tax. It is based broadly on the principal that counties and municipalities receive what they contribute. But there are adjustments made for other factors (and we don't know what they are) Under the formula, CHATS is entitled to only $6.6 million but the adjustment is responsible in lifting its share to $14 million.

And $14 million is what is available to fund those projects that are on CHATS long-term plan.

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