The fourth phase of Pennies for Progress is the largest and most expensive roads-fix plan ever proposed in York County.
It has the potential to create nearly $300 million in infrastructure improvements that would impact citizens from Rock Hill and Fort Mill in eastern York County to Sharon in western York County.
Voters have the power to bring it to life in November.
A list of possible roads projects that would be financed by the fourth phase of Pennies for Progress was released earlier this month.
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If you’ve recently moved to York County, you’ve probably contributed to the 20-year-old infrastructure plan and never noticed it.
The Herald spoke this week with Pennies for Progress Manager Patrick Hamilton to get answers for some questions readers have about the program’s mission, motives and goals.
What is Pennies for Progress?
It’s a 20-year-old infrastructure improvement plan for York County roads and intersections that has, so far, helped raise nearly $700 million to build, extend or rehabilitate streets and highways. The plan raises money by levying a 1-percent county tax on certain goods and services. If you go to the movies in Rock Hill or shop at places like Home Depot or Dollar General or get work done on your car, you’re contributing to Pennies for Progress.
Anyone purchasing goods in York County helps fund the road work, which means a significant portion of the money comes from visitors.
State law requires that money raised by Pennies for Progress be used only for York County roads, and each project must be properly identified in advance.
I hate taxes. Is there anything it doesn’t affect?
Yes. Your grocery bills, car payments and mortgages aren’t affected. Nor are you paying extra at the gas pump.
How old is Pennies for Progress?
Taxpayers first voted to start Pennies for Progress in 1997, and have voted two more times since to keep it going. This latest phase calls for about $278 million worth of roadwork.
The previous high was $190 million two decades ago.
“It’s a continuation of something a generation of people have been paying to support,” Hamilton said. “A lot of people don’t know they’re even paying it. To pay into this program is very minimal.”
Does Pennies for Progress cover all roads?
The tax can be used to cover any public road – city, county or state. Based on the success of Pennies 1, officials petitioned the state for significant funds to widen Interstate 77 to eight lanes from Exit 75 to the North Carolina border.
Who chooses the roads to be improved?
York County residents pick the roads, plan them, and ultimately vote the projects into action.
The process starts by creating a six-member commission that holds public hearings in York County and takes as many suggestions for projects as possible.
Of the six members, three are chosen by the York County Council, two by the Rock Hill City Council and the sixth member by the remaining municipalities – Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Clover, York, Smyrna, Hickory Grove, Sharon and McConnells. After the public meetings, the group compiles the information. County residents also are asked to submit their ideas online, Hamilton said.
How does the committee select the roads?
Typically, the panel considers how to best benefit the most people. A small, gravel road in western York County may be in rough shape, but serve about 200 cars each day, compared to Rock Hill’s Cherry Road, which services much more traffic.
There’s nearly $36 million planned for a five-lane widening of U.S. 21 from S.C. 160 to Springfield Parkway that Hamilton said will likely connect Rock Hill and Fort Mill residents closer together. If more than one municipality indicates that a road is a priority, the commission will be more likely to give it consideration.
“We’re trying to target the higher-travel roads that impact the most people,” Hamilton said.
A lot of people don’t know they’re even paying it. To pay into this program is very minimal.
Pennies for Progress manager Patrick Hamilton
Are any other projects being discussed?
For the first time, Pennies for Progress has earmarked $50 million for resurfacing projects on more than 80 miles of roads in Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Lake Wylie/Clover, and western York County.
Five projects carried over from Pennies 3 (S.C. 557, S.C. 160 East, Riverview Road, Mount Gallant, and S.C. 72) make up the biggest slice of the pie. Funding ran short by $60 million for these projects under the Pennies 3 plan.
Also, $40.5 million likely will go to widening Cel-River/Red River Road from Eden Terrace to Dave Lyle Boulevard and the Galleria Boulevard extension in Rock Hill.
How is the likely cost of each project determined?
After the commission finalizes its project list, county staff creates an in-depth cost analysis of each project. Cost estimates include possible environmental impacts, construction costs, wetlands impact, and several other factors. Pennies staff then run a series of 10,000 simulations on each project to try to determine a range for the cost.
How long would this new phase of Pennies last?
The tax for Pennies 3 runs out on April 30, 2018. If Pennies 4 is approved, it would begin levying the same tax on May 1, 2018. The tax period would last for seven years.
What’s the next step?
Now that the final list of projects has been released, the York County Council will take up the issue for three readings starting June 5. A public hearing will be June 19, and it could be adopted as early as July 17.
The county council must vote either yes or no on the entire package, rather than on individual projects.
Voters would then choose to vote in favor of or against the plan on Nov. 7.
Assuming the county council approves the plan, Pennies for Progress commission members would be out asking people to vote for the proposal, especially on an off-election year.
What happens if Pennies 4 is rejected?
If Pennies 4 is turned down, either by the county council or by voters this fall, it would mean there would be no funding to complete backlogged projects, Hamilton said.
If Pennies 4 is voted down, not even those projects would have the money to move forward, much less the new projects.
Pennies for Progress
How much money has Pennies for Project raised for roads in York County?
▪ Pennies 1: $190 million
▪ Pennies 2: $184 million
▪ Pennies 3: $170 million
▪ Additional state money to aid Interstate 77: $132 million
▪ Pennies 4 (proposed): $278 million