Scores of new homes are planned or under way in once-quiet south Rock Hill, but road work aimed at handling the added traffic is nearly a year behind schedule.
The delays are holding up efforts to ease congestion along S.C. 72, where drivers face tricky turns and frequent bottlenecks during rush hour.
But they also have put off the start of the south side's biggest development project yet: A shopping center that will eventually become the third largest of its kind in Rock Hill, behind the Galleria and Manchester Village.
Developer Tony Berry says he can't move ahead with plans for Stonegate until the timeline clears for upgrades at the nearby intersection of S.C. 72 and S.C. 901.
"We are waiting for a definitive schedule," Berry told The Herald this week. "We have many potential businesses that are interested in locating in Stonegate, but everyone wants to know when the road improvements will start and finish."
County officials said Monday they hope to start work by February or March. But the upgrades in question are part of a much larger "Pennies for Progress" project that also includes two other intersections -- and the order in which each one is tackled remains uncertain. So does a completion date for the overall project.
Safer intersection the goal
Aside from allowing Stonegate to start, the road changes will also improve safety at 72 and 901, where drivers must navigate a gauntlet of turns, merges and yield signs. Neighbor Diane Gabanyic said she drove past a two-car collision on Monday morning.
"Somebody got smacked pretty good," she said. "I got in an accident at that intersection, too. Just too many cars coming in strange directions."
To fix the problem, the county plans to widen S.C. 72 and install a traffic light, more turn lanes and safer pedestrian crossings at the 901 intersection.
The city will kick in money of its own for mast-arm traffic light poles, signage and landscaping. The goal is to link added safety measures with a more attractive entrance into Rock Hill.
But the first bulldozer has yet to arrive, and the reason is one that has plagued the county's 1-cent sales tax program since it began 10 years ago: Problems acquiring slivers of land needed to make room for wider roads.
As planners negotiate with property owners, the pieces of land in question often are sold off -- requiring the haggling and paperwork to start over with the new owners, says Myron George, Pennies for Progress project manager.
Land becomes far more valuable when investors realize it will be close to bigger roads, and eventually, more potential customers.
"Property is changing hands and being developed so quickly," George said. "Often, we will be in the process of buying the property from one owner and it will be sold to another. It has happened over and over again."
Another cause for uncertainty is within the county's control: Planners elected to pitch the project -- which also encompasses work on Heckle Boulevard and Albright Road -- as a single bid, so that one contractor can be in charge of managing a smooth traffic flow, George said.
This approach may be good for drivers, but not for developers such as Berry. That's because the contractor will determine which portions are tackled first -- so its too soon to know where the work around the planned Stonegate project will fall on the schedule. A contractor won't be hired until next year.
Meanwhile, officials point to a reason for patience: Careful coordination up front will allow all the work to be done at the same time -- rather than in piecemeal steps.
"The last thing the public wants to see is a lot of money spent on something you have to go back and tear out," said Rock Hill Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley. "We do a good job coordinating. And sometimes that does slow it down. But at least when you're finished, you're finished."