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July 21, 2016

TRIP Report: SC Interstates rank #6 in Highest Fatality Rates

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Monday, June 27, 2016
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Contact: Carolyn Bonifas Kelly -

Washington, DC – South Carolina’s Interstate system has one of the highest fatality rates in the country as the U.S. Interstate marks its 60th anniversary this week. According to a new report released today by TRIP, a Washington, DC-based national transportation organization, South Carolina’s Interstates had the sixth highest fatality rate in the nation.

The TRIP report, "The Interstate Highway System Turns 60: Challenges to Its Ability to Continue to Save Lives, Time and Money" finds that the Interstate Highway System faces increasing congestion, unprecedented levels of travel – particularly by large trucks – and insufficient funding to make needed repairs and improvements. The nation’s most critical transportation link continues to save lives with its enhanced safety features and is largely well-preserved, but an aging Interstate system will increasingly require more long-term, costly repairs.

The chart below details the top 10 states whose Interstate systems had the highest fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2014.

While the Interstate Highway System represents only 2.5 percent of lane miles in the U.S., it carries 25 percent of the nation’s vehicle travel. The system is increasingly congested, with truck travel growing at a rate twice that of overall Interstate travel. And, while the nation’s Interstates tend to be in better condition than other roads and bridges, the aging system lacks the required funding for needed improvements and repairs.

"Drivers are frustrated with the condition of the nation’s transportation system," said Jill Ingrassia, AAA’s managing director of government relations and traffic safety advocacy. "While a record 36 million travelers plan to hit the road for Independence Day weekend, nearly 70 percent are concerned that roads and bridges are not in great driving condition. AAA urges lawmakers to keep their eye on the ball to identify a sustainable funding source to maintain and improve our Interstate system for the future."

The current backlog of needed improvements to the Interstate Highway System, as estimated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is $189 billion. The nation’s current transportation investment is less than two-thirds (61 percent) of the amount needed to keep Interstates in good condition and make the improvements necessary to meet the nation’s growing need for personal and commercial mobility. And, while the recently enacted federal surface transportation program, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST Act) provides a modest increase in spending, it lacks a long-term, sustainable revenue source. By 2020 the annual shortfall into the nation’s Highway Trust Fund will be $16 billion annually.

"The United States moves in large part thanks to the efforts of many elected officials, organizations and citizens whose shared foresight led to the construction of the national interstate system," said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "Now, as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Interstate act, it’s clear that our investments in preserving the system are not keeping up even as our nation continues to grow."

Since 2000 travel on the Interstate system is increasing two times faster than new lane capacity is being added. As a result, 43 percent of urban Interstate highways are considered congested during peak hours and the average annual amount of travel per Interstate lane mile increased by 11 percent from 2000 to 2014. Thirty-nine percent of South Carolina’s urban Interstates are congested during peak travel times. Across the nation, travel by combination trucks on the Interstate increased by 29 percent from 2000 to 2014, more than double the 14 percent rate of growth for all Interstate vehicle travel during the same period. Combination trucks make up 14 percent of rural Interstate travel in South Carolina.

"It's hard to believe it's been 60 years since the Interstate Highway System was developed," said Ed Mortimer, executive director for transportation infrastructure at the United States Chamber of Commerce.  "The vision of President Eisenhower has enabled economic mobility throughout our nation and showed we can accomplish big things.  As we work to maintain, and in many cases rebuild this great system, let's continue to think big as we work to fund and finance an improved, smarter network."

In 2015 vehicle miles of travel on the Interstate Highway System was four percent higher than in 2014 and through the first three months of 2016 travel on the Interstate Highway System was five percent higher than during the first three months of 2015.

"While the dramatic increase in South Carolina’s population in recent years – an astounding 39 percent since 1990 – has been good for our economy, the lack of investment in our state’s transportation needs is having the opposite effect," said Bill Ross, executive director of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads (SCFOR). "If we do not increase investments in our highway system, the tourism industry, businesses, and manufacturing plants are not going to locate or expand here in South Carolina. The future of our state’s economic growth, thriving tourism industry and, most importantly, the well-being of our citizens are at risk unless adequate and long-term funding is provided to meet the growing demands of our highway system."

The design of the Interstate – which includes a separation from other roads and rail lines, a minimum of four lanes, paved shoulders and median barriers – makes it more than twice as safe to travel on as all other roadways. Nationwide, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on the Interstate in 2014 was 0.54, compared to 1.26 on non-Interstate routes. In South Carolina the non-Interstate fatality rate was more than double the Interstate fatality rate – 1.98 versus 0.82. TRIP estimates that the Interstate Highway System saved 5,359 lives nationwide in 2014 and 165 lives in South Carolina. This estimate is based on the number of additional fatalities that would have occurred had Interstate traffic been carried by other major roadways, which often lack the safety features common to Interstate routes.

"Increased, long-term and dedicated sources of revenue are needed to improve the condition of our overcrowded and often unsafe Interstates," said Cathy Novinger, CEO of the Palmetto Agribusiness Council. "South Carolina takes pride in the investments made to our container port, which will significantly increase the flow of commerce on our Interstate system. We must have a first class interstate system to meet our growing needs in a safe and efficient manner through our state."

While the condition of Interstate pavement and bridges is acceptable, some deficiencies exist. Twelve percent of Interstate highways are in poor or mediocre. Three percent of Interstate bridges are structurally deficient and an additional 18 percent are functionally obsolete. Structurally deficient bridges have significant deterioration of the major components of the bridge, while functionally obsolete bridges no longer meet modern design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.

"The long-term vision that helped establish the current Interstate system 60 years ago is needed again today," said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. "In order to maintain personal and commercial mobility, transportation investment and a sustainable, long-term funding source for the federal surface transportation program must remain a priority."

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