DOT commissioner: State willing to work with Beaufort to transfer road ownership

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 25, 2012 

The S.C. Department of Transportation is responsible for more than 41,000 miles of road across the state.

That's more than it can afford to maintain, so the department is willing to consider transferring some or all of the 142 miles within the city of Beaufort to the municipal government, according to Commissioner Craig Forrest.

"I can't explain it any better than we are frothing at the mouth, we want to get the deal done," Forrest told City Council on Tuesday, noting the state would like to cut in half the amount of roadway for which it is responsible.

However, that does not mean a deal will be struck quickly. Forrest said DOT and city staffers need to figure out a mutually beneficial way to transfer responsibility for the roadways.

"Without being overly dramatic and without making a promise I can't keep, we are committed to making this work," he said.

The state's Roadway Credit Program allows cities to take over streets, city public works director Isiah Smalls said, but officials are concerned about the costs of maintaining those roads.

Beaufort proposed the state study and upgrade existing roads before a transfer and provide an annual stipend based on the number of miles transferred. The city expects to spend nearly $304,000 next year on road maintenance, even without additional roads transferred from the state, according to Smalls.

"We're smart enough to know what it already takes to maintain roads," Mayor Billy Keyserling said. "It can be very expensive, and we cannot afford to maintain them without funding."

One possibility is a pilot program that transfers three or four streets -- perhaps the ones surrounding Basil Green Complex -- to the city.

Beaufort is interested in adding on-street parking there, something the state does not allow in that area.

Keyserling, however, is wary of any promises of a per-mile stipend because it could be rescinded in the future, leaving Beaufort with the streets and no money.

"Having been a member of the legislature, I know it has made many, many promises to local governments and then the money disappeared," he said.

Keyserling seeks an agreement whereby the roads would return to state control if the stipend were revoked.

City Council considered a staff recommendation this summer to levy a $35-per-vehicle fee but decided against it. That proposal would have brought in about $313,390, and city manager Scott Dadson said the money would be treated as a right-of-way fee to offset the cost of street maintenance and other road projects.

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