June 12, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Tens of thousands of potholes filled – or just funny numbers?


If you ask the S.C. Department of Transportation how many potholes it fills statewide, all the agency can do is give estimates.

DOT says it patched an estimated 57,300 potholes statewide from Jan. 10 to Feb. 19 at a total cost of $3.6 million, the agency told The Nerve on Thursday in response to a state Freedom of Information Act request for records about its heavily publicized “Pothole Blitz.”

But although requested by The Nerve, the department didn’t give a county breakdown of the total number of potholes filled during the period or total costs by county, though it listed the total number of work requests per county.

Richland County, where DOT is headquartered, easily led all counties with 1,253, or 15 percent, of the total 8,326 work requests during the nearly six-week period – about 500 more requests than Greenville County, which came in second with 781 requests.

Rounding out the 20 counties were the highest number of work requests over the period were Lexington (669), York (482), Spartanburg (479), Charleston (352), Anderson (317), Berkeley (309), Florence (292), Horry (284), Lancaster (232), Aiken (218), Williamsburg (209), Dorchester (208), Sumter (180), Pickens (174), Laurens (168), Newberry (166),Orangeburg (156) and Colleton (123).

Half of the counties had fewer than 100 work requests during the six-week period, with the Allendale County at the bottom of the list with four requests.

DOT told The Nerve that statewide, the agency had 78,785.1 “person hours performing pothole patching operations” at a total labor cost of $1,641,268, which worked out to be an average of about $21 per hour.

The department based its estimate of 57,300 filled potholes using a formula that included 5,730 tons of unspecified patching material used, and “assuming” 200 pounds of material used for an “average sized” pothole measuring 2 feet long, 2 feet wide and 4 inches deep.

If the number of potholes filled in each county over the period reflected the percentage of work requests, the number of patched potholes would range from 27 in Allendale County to 8,623 in Richland County.

DOT did not provide The Nerve with a breakdown of the estimated number of patched potholes by county. The Nerve on Thursday requested that information but had not received it by publication of this story.

The agency announced in January – promoting it through social media and news outlets statewide – that it was launching a “Pothole Blitz” to repair what it claimed was a growing number of potholes statewide brought on by recent heavy rains.

At a DOT Commission meeting last month, agency head Christy Hall said about 43,000 potholes were patched statewide from Jan. 10 – the start of the “blitz” – to Feb. 3, though she noted the total number was an estimate “based on a calculation” by DOT’s engineering division.

She also said DOT patched about 411,000 potholes statewide last fiscal year – which was noted in the department’s annual report – though she acknowledged that number was an estimate.

Hall’s comments at the Feb. 21 meeting came two days after The Nerve submitted its request for records on the “blitz.” The Nerve earlier submitted a separate open-records request for records related to the 411,000 figure but has not yet received the requested documents, though a legal deadline has passed.

Lawmakers promised a state law that took effect July 1, 2017, hiking the state’s gas tax 12 cents per gallon over six years, and increasing other vehicle taxes and fees, would be used to fix South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and bridges.

The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out that relatively little has been spent out a special state fund, called the “Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund,” created with the law. Of the nearly $541.3 million collected as of Jan. 31 – 19 months after the law took effect – $68.4 million, or less than 13 percent of the total, was spent on road and bridge projects identified by DOT, according to the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office.

The most-recent DOT records show that about $15 million, or nearly a quarter, of the total $61.4 million paid to road contractors through Dec. 31 went for “preservation” projects – not major repairs, The Nerve found in a January review.

The department has said 80 percent of the state’s approximately 42,000 miles of roads needs to be resurfaced or rebuilt, and identified 465 out of 750 “structurally deficient” bridges to be replaced.

Yet The Nerve revealed in January that DOT plans to spend more than a third of gas-tax-hike revenues projected to be collected by 2027 on widening or repaving interstates, based on a department document presented at a road contractors’ conference last year.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.

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