Horry County is trying to get rid of maintaining more than 100 miles of dirt roads because, by state and county laws, they don't benefit enough people.
The measure is estimated to save the county up to $400,000 annually, but not all councilmen are crazy about the idea.
David Gilreath, director of the county’s public works department, said in years past, it was as easy as flagging down the county employee driving the road grader to get a county road scraped.
“Over time, we’ve accumulated quite a few of those,” Gilreath said. “The dedication process clearly wasn’t what it is today.”
1992 Horry County law: “any deed, easement, or right of way … which is not of public benefit shall be removed from the county road maintenance system.”
Horry County stopped dedicating roads — or taking them as the county’s responsibility — in 1997. It currently has upwards of 600 miles of dirt roads, and about 100 of those miles are roads that lack significant public benefit. Some, in fact, are driveways to rural houses, which doesn’t sit well with Councilman Johnny Vaught.
“I don’t see how we can justify maintaining someone’s driveway,” Vaught said.
Horry County public works departments staff will meet with councilmen in districts where the roads may be taken off the county’s maintenance plan, said Steve Gosnell, assistant county administrator for infrastructure and regulation.
“We’re at a point now where our paved network is about 800 miles and dirt road is about 600 miles, and you’re talking about 100 miles that maybe shouldn’t even be in our system … ,” Gosnell said.
Councilman Jody Prince said if the county moves to remove these roads from their maintenance plan, it may be hard news to deliver in the people of his district.
“It could cause a lot of problems when some sweet grandmother who doesn’t have children around and lives in a home a half mile up a dirt driveway and it starts getting big holes in it, then that could be a problem,” Jody Prince said.
South Carolina state law does not allow use of public funds for the primary benefit of private parties.
Councilman Paul Prince said every taxpayer and owner of a vehicle are entitled to well-maintained roads.
“I’m telling you, every person who has an automobile with a tag on it is paying a $50 road maintenance fee has a right to some type of maintenance on their road, especially if we’ve been doing it for many, many years,” Paul Prince said. “We’re spending millions and millions of dollars on tourism and everything else around here and we’re kind of nitpicking, to me, on $200,000 for roads for people who have been here all their lives. We’re talking 80- or 90-year-olds and scraping their roads once or twice a year.”
Councilman Tyler Servant commended Gilreath and his co-workers for identifying this cost-saving measure and said the savings could really add up and be used for other road projects.
“I know $400,000 isn’t much, but times it by 10,” Servant said. “We’re talking about $4 million. That’s a lot of money.”
Criteria used to determine public benefit: if a close alternate route exists; if it benefits three lots or less; or if all parcels on the road are on another public roadway
Gilreath said if the county decides to move forward with the program, a strong effort to educate the public will be needed.
“We’re not saying we need to take this driveway out, dig it up and plant trees. What we’re saying is that this doesn’t provide any public benefit,” Gilreath said. “This is not something you’re going to do in one fell swoop. This is something that’s going to take some review, take some time and may take multiple packages.”