Policy Study

South Carolina Ranks 6th in the Nation in Highway Performance and Cost-Effectiveness

South Carolina’s highway system ranks 6th in the nation in overall cost-effectiveness and condition, according to the Annual Highway Report by Reason Foundation. This is a 17-spot improvement from the previous report, where South Carolina ranked 23rd. However, some categories in the report cannot be compared to previous years due to methodological changes that also impacted some state’s overall rankings. These changes are fully explained in Part 2 and the appendix of the full report.

South Carolina ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in other and rural fatality rates. South Carolina’s other fatality rate of 2.09 is 1.5 times higher than peer state Alabama’s rate and similar to peer state Kentucky’s rate. South Carolina’s rural fatality rate of 2.92 is two times higher than Alabama’s rate and 2.5 times higher than Kentucky’s rate. 

In safety and performance categories, South Carolina ranks 50th in rural fatality rate, 30th in urban fatality rate, 23rd in structurally deficient bridges, 17th in traffic congestion, 3rd in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 19th in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

South Carolina is 5th in capital and bridge spending per mile and 2nd in maintenance spending per mile.

South Carolina’s best rankings are in other disbursements per mile (2nd) and maintenance disbursements per mile (2nd).

South Carolina’s worst rankings are in rural fatality rate (50th) and other fatality rate (46th). 

South Carolina commuters spend 18.5 hours stuck in traffic congestion, ranking 17th nationally. 

South Carolina’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the fourth largest highway system in the country. 

“To improve in the rankings, South Carolina needs to reduce all three of its fatality rates. The high fatality rates have long been a problem in the state. Typically, rural states have higher fatality rates, but South Carolina is less rural than most of the other states that rank in the bottom 10,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation. “While South Carolina’s fatality rate may never equal Minnesota’s rate, if the state could reduce its rate closer to the national average it would move up in the overall rankings.”

Additional Analysis
Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-controlled highways in 13 categories, including pavement condition, traffic congestion, structurally deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, and spending (capital, maintenance, administrative, other) per mile.

Compared to nearby states, South Carolina’s overall highway performance is worse than Tennessee (ranks 3rd), North Carolina (ranks 2nd), and Georgia (ranks 4th). 

South Carolina is doing better than comparable states such as Alabama (ranks 15th) and Kentucky (ranks 7th).

South Carolina improved 17 spots in their year’s ranking, however the state still struggles in some categories. Ten years ago, the state routinely placed in the top five states. What has changed? The state’s fatality rate has always been high, but the state used to have low overall spending, smooth pavement, and acceptable bridge conditions. Last year, pavement quality deteriorated significantly. This year, the spending remains low and urban pavement quality improved significantly. However, rural pavement quality could be better. Most significantly, the state’s fatality rates are still way too high. State leaders might want to conduct a study examining why the fatality rates are high, and how they could be lowered. 

South Carolina is one of three states that have rural fatality rates of 2.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other two states are Hawaii and Nevada.

South Carolina is one of 25 states that have urban fatality rates of 1.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 24 states are New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Delaware, Missouri, Alaska, Kentucky, Hawaii, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Nevada, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, and Illinois.

South Carolina is one of 24 states that have other fatality rates of 1.5 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled or higher. The other 23 are West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, South Dakota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio.

South Carolina is one of eight states that improved in the overall rankings by at least 10 spots from the previous report. The other states are Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Alabama, Illinois, and Georgia.

*2021 data
The Annual Highway Report is based on spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government and urban congestion data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for 2020 as well as bridge condition data from the Better Roads inventory for 2021. For more details on the calculation of each of the 13 performance measures used in the report, as well as the overall performance measure, please refer to the appendix in the main report. The report’s dataset includes Interstate, federal, and state roads, but not county or local roads. All rankings are based on performance measures that are ratios rather than absolute values: the financial measures are disbursements per mile, the fatality rate is fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles of travel, the urban congestion measure is the annual delay per auto commuter, and the others are percentages. For example, the state ranking 1st in structurally deficient bridges has the smallest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, not the smallest number of structurally deficient bridges.