As York County heads toward a new project list and referendum for another round of sales tax-funded road construction, a top priority from the last round is taking a step forward here.
But it won’t come cheap.
The county approved more than $3.2 million to move infrastructure for utilities so widening can begin along S.C. 274 and Pole Branch Road. The cost covers water, sewer, gas, electric, phone and cable lines. The project runs from Landing Point to the North Carolina line.
Costs range from $60,000 to relocate lines for Comporium Communications to $1.4 million for water provider Utilities, Inc. Other relocation agreements involve AT&T, Carolina Water Service, York County Natural Gas Authority, York Electric Cooperative and Time Warner Cable Southeast.
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Widening of Pole Branch first appeared on a Pennies referendum in 2003. The project, from Landing Point to the state line, had an $8.5 million cost estimate. But plans changed. Costs came in higher than expected for projects countywide. The project carried over to the next campaign.
In 2011, York County voters approved a continuation of the 1-cent sales tax for road work. The referendum listed 14 projects at $161 million. The tax expires in April, which is why a new Pennies campaign is making its way through county approval for a vote this November.
The 2011 vote listed the S.C. 274/Pole Branch work as its No. 2 priority. It also was the most expensive, at $25.7 million.
Now, with utility relocation, the estimated cost is $28 million. Mead & Hunt was chosen to do the design work, but a construction contract hasn’t been awarded. The county anticipates having the project open to traffic in 2020.
“Currently, we are anticipating construction beginning later this year or early 2018,” said Patrick Hamilton, Pennies director.
York County Councilwoman Allison Love, who represents Lake Wylie, said work at Pole Branch is important on several fronts.
“It’s important that the Pole Branch project begin as soon as possible,” she said. “We can’t afford to lose the confidence of voters when it comes to Pennies for Progress.”
The county has gone through changes since Pennies began in 1997, bringing the project in-house and working each time to get better cost estimates. However, having a major project pushed from one campaign to the next could make for a tough sell for the county, Love said — despite millions of dollars and plenty of miles of new road in the three Pennies campaigns thus far.
“It makes a huge difference to the quality of our roads,” she said. “Extended timelines and under estimations of cost undermine project benefits in people’s minds.”
Pole Branch work is important based on the road itself, the councilwoman said.
“Pole Branch is probably the worst road in York County,” Love said. “It’s unsafe. Period.”
Joe DePalma lives about three miles from All Saints Catholic Church, which sits at the main intersection to be realigned with the road widening. If the church has a 6 p.m. meeting, DePalma said he gives himself a good half hour to get there.
“The widening is what's really needed there,” he said. “It's badly needed. That intersection is an unbelievable bottleneck at rush hour.”
Several years ago, the church hosted a public meeting where county leaders showed project maps. Yet visible progress in the area hasn’t followed.
“That was one of my questions,” DePalma said. “Are they still going to do it? It’s been at the top of the list a couple of times but it's never got done. That intersection is really busy now.”
The main intersection isn’t at a right angle, but will lose some of its unorthodox skew with the improvements. DePalma believes trucks will be able to pass through better, and overall safety will improve. With the widening he believes rush hour could become a little less chaotic.
Until then, he’ll wait.
“You have to just figure your way around it,” he said. “It is difficult.”