The warning sign on Henry Harris Road could be coming down if Lancaster County voters approve a $41.7 million referendum this fall.
Henry Harris is the only road that parallels U.S. 521 through the county’s panhandle region.
Drivers turning south from Shelley Mullis Road onto Henry Harris Road are greeted by a yellow warning sign with the words “rough road.”
Henry Harris Road then meanders through the Lancaster County countryside until it dead ends at U.S. 521 just before the Waxhaw Highway.
The drive, though pleasant in view, can be bone-jarring with few patches of consistent pavement and numerous potholes.
County Administrator Steve Willis says it’s the third worst road in the county.
Henry Harris Road is maintained by the state. State officials estimate that 85 percent of nearly 900 miles of state-maintained roads in Lancaster County need pavement improvement. But the state lacks the funds to pave the roads.
To fix state- and county-maintained roads throughout Lancaster County, the county council hopes voters approve the referendum on Nov. 4. The plan is to spend $27.4 million of the $41.7 million raised by the tax on road improvements.
The county currently has a 1-cent sales tax that’s paying for the new courthouse. That tax is set to expire in October 2015. County officials hope to continue the tax for another six years and use the money to repair roads, replace the county’s public safety radio system, pay for improvements to the library system and the sheriff’s office.
Unlike York County’s Pennies for Progress 1-cent sales tax, which pays for new road projects, Lancaster’s sales tax would pay for repairing current roads.
“When people came to our meetings, we heard ‘potholes, potholes, potholes,’ ” said Larry Durham, chairman of the county’s 1-cent sales tax committee.
The committee originally considered a bond referendum solely for road repair.
Those needs were great, Durham said, as the committee reviewed the “worst of the worst” list of roads needing repair. The committee decided to include both state-maintained and county-maintained roads in the list of projects to consider.
Among the criteria the committee used to select a road for repair were whether it was on a school bus route, its volume of traffic, and, most importantly, whether it was recommended by traffic engineers.
As proposed, the county wants to repair 50 miles of state-maintained roads at a cost of $16.7 million and 26 miles of county-maintained roads at a cost of $10.7 million.
When residents attended a series of public hearings about the tax, the committee expanded its outlook. Residents and other county departments presented their wants – a list that totaled more than $120 million.
Some projects were worthwhile, but represented more a wish-list than a want, Durham said. Among those projects were a $6 million request from Lancaster schools for a 1-to-1 computer initiative to provide students with Chromebook computers and a $20 million request from the Parks and Recreation department for a new park similar to two in Rock Hill: the Cherry Park soccer/baseball facility or the Manchester Meadows soccer complex.
The need for improving Lancaster County libraries swayed the committee. Emails from residents helped move this $8 million request near the top of the list, Durham said. “This is a golden opportunity for the library to get funding,” Durham said.
Library funding is not assured, however.
As proposed the referendum would create two categories of projects. The first would be funded by bonds paid for from sales tax revenue for the highest priority projects. If the referendum brings in more money than the bonds, the additional funds would be used for projects labeled “pay-as-you-go.”
Library improvements, $238,000 for a sheriff’s department crime lab and $14 million in road projects are in the “pay-as-you-go” category.
Updating the county’s public safety radio network is split between bonds and pay-as-you-go, Willis said. The cost of a new radio network is about $7.5 million. The county hopes to sell $4.5 million in bonds to help build the infrastructure needed for a new system. The remaining $3 million would be on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Willis said the new system is needed because Lancaster public safety agencies use the very-high frequency band while most other counties use a digital or the 800 megahertz system. The difference in bandwidth means units from different areas responding to a fire or accident “can’t talk to each other,” Willis said.
While governments can propose the 1-cent tax, they are prohibited from lobbying for its passage. Durham said he hopes the people who have an interest in the projects “will be the advocates.”
The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce is reviewing the referendum and not taken a position on it yet.