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April 22, 2017

Hey SC: It’s Time To Widen I-95

by Anne Paddock

According to Betterroads.com, South Carolina is the second deadliest state to drive in  – nearly 1,000 people (3 per day) were killed in 2016 and this is not sitting well with South Carolinians or the people traveling through the state who blame road conditions.

People in South Carolina have been making their views heard in a variety of creative ways including hiring planes to fly banners that say “Fix the Damn Roads” over the State House to forming alliances (Fix South Carolina Roads) to address the poor conditions of the roads. But, it’s not just potholes and deteriorating asphalt, it’s the inability of the highways to handle the amount of vehicles on the roads.

I-95 is the longest north-south/south-north interstate in the United States with nearly 2,000 miles of interstate highway  passing through 15 states but it’s the 198 mile stretch through South Carolina that’s making drivers crazy as of late. Don’t even think about driving this stretch on a weekend, especially holidays although weekdays are now becoming just as bad with bumper to bumper traffic for miles. More often than not, the slowdown is not because of an accident (although there are plenty of accidents on this stretch) but because the two lanes of traffic going in each direction are not enough to handle the number of vehicles. Forget about driving on the right and passing on the left. It’s a total free for all that results in a slow-moving parking lot for hours in both directions.

By way of history, the construction of I-95 through the state of South Carolina began in 1962 and was completed in 1978 with four lanes, two in each direction. For the past 39 years, I-95 has remained virtually unchanged in South Carolina.  In 2003, the highway was widened in the northern part of the state to six lanes in the Florence area just south of I-20 (mile market 160) to just north of SC 327 (mile marker 170). The problem is the 160 miles of roads south of Florence to the Georgia border in both directions. The 3 lane road in each direction in Georgia shrinks to 2 lanes in South Carolina causing a bottleneck that creates massive traffic backups in the lanes heading north.

So, why hasn’t I-95 been widened in South Carolina? The state certainly has the land to widen the interstate as evidenced by the wide medians. There are many reasons but they all point back to money. Critics have written that South Carolina does not want to do anything that benefits Georgia economically or waste money on people passing through. The problem with that argument is this:  most drivers are not commuters that travel from South Carolina to Georgia for work; and drivers passing through use hotels and restaurants along the way which generates significant revenue for business owners (and the government through taxes). And, let’s not forget the South Carolina resorts along the coast (Hilton Head, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and more) where many people vacation or have second homes.

So, who is responsible for widening an interstate highway?  The answer is often difficult to determine but in most cases, the responsibility is the state’s Department of Transportation working in conduction with the federal government. In South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is responsible for building and maintaining roads and bridges and administering mass transit services.

The SCDOT is a department in the Executive branch that reports to the South Carolina Transportation Commission, composed of eight members, seven of whom are elected by the legislative delegations of each of the state’s Transportation Districts. These Transportation Districts coincide with the state’s Congressional Districts. One at-large member is appointed by the Governor. The members of the commission include 8 men (7 white, 1 black), whose e-mail addresses are listed below:

  • Woodrow “Woody” W. Willard, Jr., 4th Congressional District (WillardWW@scdot.org)
  • John N. Hardee, 2nd Congressional District (HardeeJN@scdot.org)
  • David E. “Gene” Branham, Sr., 5th Congressional District (BranhamDE@scdot.org)
  • Ben H. Davis, Jr., 3rd Congressional District (DavisBH@scdot.org)
  • Samuel B. Glover, 6th Congressional District (GloverS@scdot.org)
  • Clifton Parker, Governor’s At-Large Appointment (ParkerGC@scdot.org)
  • Robert D. “Robby” Robbins, 1st Congressional District (RobbinsRD@scdot.org)
  • Mike Wooten, 7th Congressional District (Wootenjm@scdot.org)

In January, 2017, the SCDOT reported that the widening of I-95 to 6 lanes would cost $4 billion but it will be years before the state has enough money to complete the project. Many have suggested raising the gas tax since South Carolinians and travelers though the state enjoy some of the cheapest gas in the country (as low as $2.09 for unleaded regular last week). The current tax is 16.75 cents per gallon and the proposal is to raise the tax to 26.75 cents per gallon over five years which is projected to generate about $600 million per year according to The State newspaper.

So, what can you do? There are several options including e-mailing the commissioners above to lodge a complaint, call the Governor’s office (803-734-2100), or go to a Facebook page (FixSCRoads) or their website: www.fixscroads.com and request I-95 be widened.

*Photo credit of traffic jam: Dick n’ Debbie’s Travels

*Photo credit of I-95 Map:  95Highway.com

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