SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Rough Ride in Aiken County

Thursday, May 18, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Starting July first, your wallet will notice a change at the pumps in South Carolina, but could be quite some time before you notice a change on the roads. The new gas tax goes into effect in about a month and a half. It adds an extra two cents a gallon each year for the next six years. Leaders say it should bring in around $600 million to help fix the state's crumbling roads, but since we're talking pennies here, it will take years to collect that many. Meanwhile, the roads are only going to get worse while we wait, and we're left paying the price for that, too.

Some of that neglect is easy to spot, like the numerous potholes that dot so many South Carolina roads. Other damage, like where the road is chipping away, might not be as easy for you to spot when you're behind the wheel. The big picture isn't a good one; the South Carolina Department of Transportation admits only 17 percent of state roads are in "good" shape. Only around 29 percent are "fair." The DOT classifies the remaining 54 percent as "bad."

Brandon Amon believes it, too. "I've replaced bumpers; I've replaced head-lights. Fog lights." His list of South Carolina road expenses is getting even more expensive. "We've already had to replace the windshield in it once due to a rock popping up and cracking all the way across the windshield," said Amon. He hasn't even had this car for five months yet, and he knows cars. We rode along on his way home from his job at a car dealership service department. "Just driving on that daily, it can cause alignment issues," he said.

That's something Lisa Singer knows all too well. "It's not good on your axle," she said.

Both Brandon and Lisa say the roads aren't good on their wallets, either. Brandon lives in North Augusta; we caught up with miles Lisa miles away in Windsor.

Lisa: "You hit a pothole, it can hurt your tire quite a bit."
Meredith: "And you've had that happen?"
Lisa: "Yeah. Uh-huh."

Lisa's part of a whole society of drivers. Granted, they're drivers of a different kind who use a different kind of horsepower, but they had to use their trucks and trailers to get here. "Here" just so happens to be off a very beaten path. "I have a tire fetish," Lisa joked. "I'm always getting new tires because I'm worried I'm going to have a flat tire." Storm Branch Road is known for flat tires, thanks to pothole after pothole. Its crumbling shoulder could also give your wallet the cold shoulder. Storm Branch Road is number 2 on a list of Aiken County roads the SC DOT actually has approval to re-do.

That list isn't very long. We crunched the numbers and found out of the 41,000 miles the state maintains, a DOT document shows it only has approval this year to "improve" 285 miles of pavement. That's it. Aiken County's share is only about 18 miles. However, we got our hands on another list of roads. It shows the ones the DOT says need repaving or replacing. That total comes to more than 455 miles.

Again, roughly 18 miles have been approved for repairs. "One step forward. Two steps back, " said Amon. That's because it's more expensive not to fix a road. It costs the state around $10,000 to maintain a mile, but it's at least $100,000 to replace it.

The DOT says we're stuck with that bigger tab. "We've waited too long." The majority of our roads "now need re-construction."

Until those state roads can be fixed, we'll all face a bumpy ride.

Lisa will have to hold her horses. Brandon, meanwhile, isn't holding out hope. "I don't see it getting better anytime soon," he said. Research group TRIP estimates South Carolina drivers spend $5.4 billion extra each year driving on state roads, and that doesn't include insurance. TRIP suggests that translates to well over $1,000 per driver.

South Carolina drivers won't foot the entire bill of that new tax. State Representative Bill Hixon from North Augusta estimates 30 percent of those pennies will come from out of state drivers. He also suggests that you save every gas receipt between July first and the end of the year. You'll need them come tax time because you will get a rebate for the more expensive gas you are buying.

Read the original version of this article at www.wrdw.com.