News that York County engineers need $3.2 million more than anticipated to complete road improvements on White Street in Rock Hill is regrettable. The county, which decided in 2007 to take over management of the Pennies for Progress road program, shouldn’t make mistakes like this.
The White Street project will stretch from Dave Lyle Boulevard to Constitution Boulevard and will include new lanes, an improved sidewalk and changes to make a railroad crossing safer. The project is one of 14 approved by county voters in a 2003 referendum.
Nearly $1.5 million of the shortfall is the result of errors in calculating costs in 2009, soon after the county took over management from Capital Management and Engineering, the Rock Hill firm the county hired to oversee the projects. The original $5.9 million cost estimate for the White Street project failed to include $1.5 million for design and right-of-way acquisition.
Why were county officials caught off guard by costs for design and buying right of way? Those expenses should have been predictable.
Another $1.8 million for unforeseen costs arose near the end of the first phase of the project. Phil Leazer, Pennies program manager, said the county had not anticipated having to relocate a heating and air conditioning business on White Street.
When roads are widened or repaired, underground utilities such as water, sewer and Internet cable must be relocated. Staff members realized there would not be enough room to do that with the space they had allotted, which will increase the cost. The existing sidewalk also must be ripped out entirely instead of repaired because it has too many cracks.
Leazer said the $3.2 million in additional money would come from tax funds collected for the Pennies program from 2004 to 2011. Nonetheless, with better planning, that money might have been used on another project.
Granted, this is nowhere near the level of miscalculations that prompted the county to abandon CME and take over management of the Pennies program. In 2008, CME’s cost projections went from a $300,000 surplus in August to a $22 million shortfall in December.
Despite the latest miscalculation, Pennies for Progress still is a vital program for the county. Since the first round of projects was approved in 1997, revenues form the 1-cent sales tax designated for Pennies have been the only significant source of road-improvement dollars for the county.
Voters approved two more rounds of Pennies projects in 2003 and 2011. So far, Pennies has paid to resurface and widen miles of roads, improve dozens of intersections, pave miles of gravel roads, and repair 12 bridges.
More highway widening and resurfacing projects are either in construction or in planning. These projects not only have made it more convenient to get around the county, they also have made traffic considerably safer, especially improvements to S.C. 5, once one of the county’s most hazardous major roads.
Neither York County or other counties can expect much help from the state on road projects. Lawmakers have allocated only a fraction of what is needed to address the problem of crumbling roads and bridges statewide.
Finishing the White Street project is crucial. But we hope county staff does a better job of projecting costs in the future.