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SC civil engineers gives state’s infrastructure ‘D+’ grade

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 10:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers has released the 2021 Report Card for South Carolina’s Infrastructure.

The civil engineers gave the eight categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a ‘D+,’ meaning the state’s infrastructure is in subpar condition and in need of attention.

South Carolina has made significant strides in addressing its infrastructure in recent years to better prepare for a booming population. However, investment is needed to improve conditions for this growth and to prepare the state for increasingly severe climate threats due to its position as a coastal state.

The civil engineers graded the states:

  • Aviation (D+)
  • Bridges (C)
  • Dams (D)
  • Drinking water (D+)
  • Ports (B)
  • Roads (D)
  • Transit (D+)
  • Wastewater (D)

“South Carolina’s agencies and leaders have taken matters into their own hands to ensure our network of infrastructure systems are suitable for a 21st-century economy and expanding demographic,” said Jonathan Thrasher, P.E., Co-Chair, 2021 Report Card for South Carolina’s Infrastructure. “Now it is time for the federal government to do its part in aiding our communities with the necessary funding to bring all of our systems to a state of good repair.”

S.C. Ports is a top-10 container port in the United States, responsible for 1-in-10 South Carolina jobs and generating more than $63 billion in economic output for the state. As the Southeastern economy continues to grow exponentially, S.C. Ports has seen cargo volumes double in the past 10 years. Ocean carriers are deploying larger vessels to keep up with demand, which requires deeper harbors and increased port capacity.

The South Carolina Ports Authority, the state of South Carolina, the federal government, and industry partners are continuously investing in the port facilities with $2.6 billion invested through the fiscal year of 2022. The $2.6 billion investment will double container capacity upon final buildout of the new High K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal in Charleston and deepen the harbor to 52 feet so that mega container ships may access terminals any time, regardless of tides.

The civil engineers say SC’s transportation network is struggling. South Carolina’s roads and bridges face an estimated funding gap of $43 billion by 2040, and more than 50% of roads are in poor condition.

The state’s roads also have the highest fatality rate in the U.S. at 1.72 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Nearly 11% of South Carolina bridges are structurally deficient – more than the 7.5% national average – and more bridges are rated in fair (47%) than good (45%) condition.

However, the state has taken strides towards addressing these issues, raising its gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over six years starting in 2017 to generate more than $625 million in new annual revenue; the state also adopted the Target Zero vision for reducing fatalities. SCDOT’s 10-year Targeted Asset Management to realize life-cycle management goals for highway assets is in its 4th year and is ahead of schedule for bridge replacements.

“The ASCE report card confirms what we at SCDOT know. South Carolina’s transportation network is improving, but there’s still much work to be done,” said Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall, P.E. “SCDOT is ahead of the interim goals of our 10-Year Plan to improve the quality of our roads, bridges, and interstates, and we continue to improve the worst of our rural roads to make them safer. In addition, we hope to have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put a significantly greater federal investment to work widening all of I-26 between Columbia and Charleston and expanding many local roads across the state that are congested.”

Transit and aviation networks are also ill-equipped to meet demands for a growing population and economy. South Carolina’s 56 airports are expected to experience a 15% increase in flights by 2026, yet annual investment could fall short by 75% of needs and congestion is mounting at terminals.

While transit options have improved in rural areas, intercity ridership has declined by more than 60% and intercity bus transportation does not service the state’s six commercial airports, the entire north-central region, or any of the 11 Amtrak rail stations, hindering connectivity.

The state’s dams, drinking water, and wastewater systems have undergone significant upgrades in recent years, with projects being completed or developed so rapidly that the publicly available data has not yet caught up to reflect the level of expansion and modernization each system has undergone.

Despite these improvements, each water infrastructure sector faces significant challenges from severe storms and decades of underinvestment, along with increased demand stemming from a booming population.

Drinking water and wastewater face an estimated $6.1 billion in needs over the next 20 years according to the EPA, and both systems are aging beyond their intended design life. However, municipalities are in the process of updating aging systems with capital improvement projects.

The Charleston Water System is expanding and refurbishing the Plum Island Wastewater treatment plant with new pump stations, while West Columbia is undergoing a water treatment plant expansion to better serve a growing population.

The report also includes calls to action to raise the grades, such as:

  • The federal government should fully fund authorized infrastructure programs to invest in South Carolina’s aging infrastructure to support the growing population.
  • Design, operate, maintain and expand infrastructure using consensus-based codes and standards, focusing on resilience and life cycle cost as the best measures of infrastructure performance and best use of taxpayer dollars.
  • Establish funding and grants to assist programs that enhance the quality of public service in areas such as drinking water, wastewater, regional transit, and aviation. These programs would consist of utility consolidation, resilience improvements, capacity-related infrastructure upgrades, and technical career training that retains South Carolina’s talent.

The Report Card was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card-style letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of South Carolina’s infrastructure network.

ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure an overall grade of ‘C-’ in 2021.

To view the report card and all eight categories, click here.

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