Curves and hills leading up to the intersection of Highway 49 and Paraham Road have prompted a stoplight and two left turn lanes for safety, both slated for operation in the next 30 days, officials say.
York County transportation manager Phil Leazer said safety is the driving force behind the $800,000 project, funded by Pennies for Progress, the county's 1-cent sales tax program for road improvements.
Leazer boasts the Pennies program has a newfound commitment for keeping its promises to York County, even though rising construction costs and budget shortfalls have slowed the Pennies program since it was approved twice by voters.
Voters agreed to add the sales tax in 1997 to pay for 14 road projects, and the tax was renewed in 2003 for another 25 projects. Only seven of the nearly 40 full projects from the two votes have been completed.
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Western York County residents have especially criticized Pennies for Progress for spending more on roads in Rock Hill and Fort Mill areas.
The Highway 5 Bypass in York, for example, was set to be widened as part of the 1997 plan. The city installed water lines to prepare for the growing industry the widening would bring.
But "no widening has occurred at all," said York Mayor Eddie Lee. "No activity. No widening. No construction whatsoever."
Lee predicts the stretch of road will be more dangerous when the new high school opens in 2010. He said he won't support Pennies on another ballot until the program honors Western York County's needs.
"Some folks don't understand that we were promised the widening of that road and we still don't have it," Lee said about the bypass. "My friends tell me they try to avoid that bypass because it's a dangerous road, so you can envision what it'll be like with the new school."
Widening for 5.3 miles of the bypass will cost an estimated $18.7 million and is currently in the right-of-way phase. Leazer said construction depends on how smoothly right-of-way acquisition pans out, the last step before crews can begin digging.
The delay is a direct result of escalating crude oil prices and right-of-way cost increase, he said. Raw materials have increased more than 90 percent since the program began in 1997, and acreage has gone up nearly $20,000.
"We are working diligently to get that construction done as quickly as we can," Leazer said.
Improvement on the Paraham Road and Highway 49 intersection began in January, but almost didn't happen so soon. Traffic that was first recorded in the summer of 2006 showed little need for the signals, but Tom Smith, York County councilman for District 2, asked that the number of cars turning at the intersection be recounted the next August when school was in session.
"If I didn't do anything else on council, this is something I'm most proud of," said Smith, who lives on S.C. 49 about a mile from the intersection. Smith said the intersection is a major cut-through for drivers heading down from Rock Hill to Clover.
Eighteen crashes -- one resulting in a fatality -- happened in and around the intersection between 2005 and 2007, according to the state's department of public safety.
Leazer said the stoplight and left turn lane will prevent rear-end collisions and also will reduce congestion. The intersection is not one of the busiest in the area, he said, but traffic picks up during the school year.
Leazer said this is an "exciting time for transportation," and more than $400 million will be put into roads when the Pennies program is finished.
Other projects under construction are multi-lanes on Highway 5 West and improvements to Highway 557 in the Lake Wylie area, including a bridge replacement over Crowders Creek.
Five-lane widening on Highway 161 from Newport to York, a $13.9 million project, is set to be finished in about two months to alleviate congestion. Pennies is also in the process of buying right-of-way for improvements on Highway 55 east of Clover, beginning between Quinn Road and Green Pond Road and ending at Highway 49.
Herald reporter Kimberly Dick contributed.