COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - This week, we took a tour of six bumpy, congested, and crumbling Midlands roadways which are set to receive the first dose of new funding thanks to the gas tax hike approved by lawmakers months ago.
Gibson Road in Lexington County is fairly small and very narrow but the little road sees major traffic with as many as 3,700 cars a day traveling on it each day.
The state says Gibson has sorely needed improvement for years.
"I've been here all my life. There's no bad thing about it," Ezzard "Shanghai" Gates, who lives on Gibson Road said.
But Gates admits living along Gibson Road can sometimes require a lot of patience.
"This is nothing here," he said of the traffic flowing smoothly in front of his home. "Like I said, starting at 4 o'clock, you'll see it, man. I'm talking about bumper-to-bumper, man."
The narrow, two-lane road stretches between West Main Street and South Lake Drive. It's home to the Lexington County Sheriff's Department, a few businesses, and neighbors like Gates.
"This particular road is known as kind of the informal bypass around Downtown Lexington," SCDOT Secretary of Transportation, Christy Hall said. She pointed out how the heavy traffic has left its mark on the roadway.
"This particular area of roadway is in very poor condition, as you can see," Hall said.
Hall went on to say Gibson will be one of the first Midlands roads to reap the rewards of the gas tax hike.
"What we will do is go in and, where you see the white edge markings, we will go in and remove all that pavement," Hall said. "We'll come back and cover that and coat that entire section with four inches of new pavement on top of it."
Contractors will put a two-foot shoulder on both sides of Gibson too. The work on Gibson should be done by next summer.
Old Cherokee Road
Our second stop takes us to Lexington County, where Billy Jumper aims to please. They're gone right now, but his front yard that borders Old Cherokee Road is normally full of sunflowers. He grows them for just one reason – to give his neighbors and people driving by something to look at.
"There's a lot of people up and down the road. There's a lot of traffic here," he said. "Years ago, it used to not be, and when they're building the new school, it's going to be a lot of traffic cutting through here, because it's a lot of people cutting through [Highway] 378 going to Columbia. They come through this way."
That means more people get to see his flowers. It also means something else.
"You learn it right quick where the potholes are," he said. "You'll feel 'em."
Over the years, SCDOT has tried to patch up the rough spots.
"After heavy rain and all the traffic through here, it just knocks it right back out," he said.
Now, the stretch of Old Cherokee has captured DOT's full attention. Contractors will soon resurface this stretch from St. Peters Road north to just about Lake Murray. It'll be one of the first projects in the Midlands that'll be funded because of the increased gas tax.
"That's good. That's good," Jumper said. "We need to have the roads fixed. There's a lot more than this that needs to be fixed, but this was one that really needs to be done, because like I say, there's a lot of through traffic here all the time."
SCDOT said the work on Old Cherokee should be complete by late August of next year.
The third stop of our tour takes us to Fernandina Road. There, Isaac Phillips knows precisely when Malfunction Junction is living up to its name.
"I'll see traffic on either side of [Interstate] 26 – Fernandina being the one frontage road side and Jamil Road being the other side – and you can definitely see and pay attention," Phillips said. "You can see the interstate right from here, and you can see people jumping off on frontage roads and traffic starts backing up on those."
Phillips knows because he works along Fernandina on a stretch between Piney Grove Road and Home Depot. It's a stretch that sees a traffic count of about 5,125 cars each day -- a stretch that SCDOT says needs attention.
"It's a little rough," Phillips said. "It's not the worst that I've seen, for sure. But it's noticeably rough. Potholes here and there. Rough spots in the road. I mean, you know when you hit them. You kind of curve a little bit to avoid them and stuff like that."
Soon, using funding from the gas tax hike, SCDOT will tear up what's there and start over from the foundation up. DOT believes Fernandina deserves that treatment.
"Anytime we have an issue with the interstate being blocked and people trying to take alternative routes, that particular road will often serve as an alternative route getting in and around the interstate area," South Carolina's Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall said.
Contractors will repaint faded lines and install rumble strips too – safety features Phillips appreciates.
"Road lines are very good," Phillips said. "When they fade and everything, people get a little free. The rumble ridges are always great. Any improvement is good."
Work on Fernandina should finish by the end of August next year.
By the way, stats show there have been 17 total collisions on this portion of Fernandina from 2012 to 2016. Three of those accidents resulted in injuries. A fatal accident happened in that area of Fernandina last month.
Bower and Saturn Parkway
Day four of our tour introduced us to Andrew McGauley, who noticed something quickly when he moved back to South Carolina from Tennessee.
"Yeah, the roads are much different here from Tennessee, not that I'm partial to Tennessee, because we grew up in Charleston, but they seem to do better at funding their roads than we do here in South Carolina," he said.
Now, South Carolina has a new tool to fund roads better: a gas tax increase. Soon, McGauley will know that firsthand because of where he works, Southern Siding on Saturn Parkway in Columbia.
"Saturn Parkway is a major in-and-out from our complex, so I have to use it every day," he said.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation will soon rehab portions of Saturn, which runs from Harbison Boulevard to Bower Parkway. Contractors will also repair the smaller stretch of Bower Parkway too – from Saturn to Piney Grove Road.
"Towards Harbison, there's definitely some needs for it up there," McGauley said. "I don't know about down here. It seems to be okay. But the upper end most definitely needs to be repaired up there."
DOT agrees. It'll add safety features like rumble strips and new paint, but it won't rebuild the whole stretch. Instead, it'll rehab the bad spots. DOT said it's cheaper to fix roads like Saturn and Bower Parkways now before they worsen.
Across the state, there's sizeable backlog of projects that only require simple fixes. It would cost about $3 billion to make those repairs.
"We're dealing with 30 years of deferred maintenance on pavements. The hole that we've dug for ourselves is quite deep. It's going to take us a long time to get out of that hole," DOT Secretary Christy Hall said.
Work on Saturn and Bower should be complete by the end of next August.
We requested the stats to find out how many collisions happened on this stretch from 2012 to 2016. There were 62 total collisions. 22 people were injured in those crashes.
Innsbruck Drive and Weed Drive
Weed Drive is a bumpy drive.
"The worst of the potholes is where they have patched them, and instead of it being a hole, it's like a hump," said Gene Weed, who lives along the roadway.
"Then, it's got a bunch of cracks in it. I mean, if you was to walk down the road and look at it, I mean, there's actually cracks that you can stick your fingers down in. I mean, it's just crumbling apart."
Weed said he's noticed more are using this narrow road as a shortcut between the lake and Irmo.
"Lake Murray Boulevard is right up this way, and then No. 6 down that way. I'm probably a quarter of a way from being halfway through the road," he said.
Soon, SCDOT will rebuild it, complete with shoulders and rumble ridges, thanks to the gas tax hike.
R. B. Baker Drive
Miles away, R.B. Baker Drive, a lakefront road near Chapin, will get help too.
"Your car rocked and rolled – shimmied, if you know what I mean – the steering wheel would just shake. You could knock your front end out of alignment," said Jim Turner, who lives on R.B. Baker. "They've done some very nice patchwork. They just didn't do the whole thing, and it looks a little bit shabby from the standpoint that it's partial."
Soon, contractors will completely redo it with safety features too.
"That's absolutely good news. That means we can go out and continue to be active and enjoy our community," said Lauren Powell.
But, in a state full of bigger roads, why were these smaller ones chosen?
"South Carolina is unique in that we have a lot of roads in the state inventory that, in other states, cities and counties would be responsible for maintaining.
So, because of that responsibility, we often may resurface a road that is somewhat of a local road -- a neighborhood type road -- and R.B. Baker is one of those types of roads," Hall said.