The consensus last night is that something needs to be done on Pole Branch Road. Details, however, weren’t so unanimous.
Scores of residents packed All Saints Catholic Church for an update meeting on the Pennies for Progress plan to widen Pole Branch and S.C. 274. Most residents thanked project managers and engineers. They also brought suggestions and concerns.
“All you’re going to do is make it more convenient,” said Landing resident Robert Crumrine, who worries a five-lane alignment from highways 274, 557 and 49 (Three Points) to Pole Branch will encourage more traffic from North Carolina. “All you’re going to do is encourage more trucks to cut through.”
Crumrine and neighbors say a “ton more traffic” will come from I-85 in North Carolina to connect with I-77 in Rock Hill. Concrete medians where The Landing turns onto S.C. 274 also concern him.
“We absolutely need the roads straightened, repaired,” Crumrine said. “A center turn lane would be an enhancement for safety. It doesn’t need to be five lanes.”
Resident Ray Stevens doesn’t ride bicycles, but often sees cyclists along those roadways. His concern is the plan doesn’t include designated bike lanes, as previously discussed.
Instead it has wider, 14-foot shared-use lanes and 8-foot sidewalks on both sides. The South Carolina Department of Transportation wouldn’t go for sidewalks, the wider lanes and designated bike lanes, said project engineer Phil Leazer.
“I think you’ve capitulated to what the state wants, and not what the people want,” Stevens said.
Former County Councilman Perry Johnston admits his main concern is a selfish one, but said others around him are impacted, too. Johnston lives on Mill Creek where he worries construction will further fill in the cove he and neighbors say becomes shallower by the year.
Neighbors worry sedmintation fill-in could make their cove resemble Crowders Creek, where a mass like an island large enough for trees to grow sits just below an overpassing bridge.
“That’s my biggest concern,” Johnston said of siltation. “It will happen. I want to minimize it.”
Johnston was less concerned that Pole Branch is now slated for three lanes, rather tham five as was previously promoted by Pennies. The 2011 referendum noted multi-lane widening, but Johnston says residents were sold on the wider alignment.
Leazer said the pending Garden Parkway connecting Gaston and Mecklenburg counties was the reason five lanes were discussed for Pole Branch, but uncertainty with that project allowed for the decision to go three lanes on Pole Branch.
While residents brought questions and suggestions, nearly all of them applauded the effort to make the roads safer.
“The main focus of this project is a safety improvement,” Leazer said.
The road will be leveled and straightened. Intersections will be realigned at S.C. 274 and Pole Branch, then at Pole Branch intersections at River Oaks Road and Cliff Circle. The intersection of 274 and Pole Branch will be straightened to a T-shape rather than the Y-shape it has now. Maps show an expanded parking lot at All Saints to fill that space. All Saints recently broke ground on a new parish life center.
Additional traffic lights could be added as future traffic necessitates.
Bridge widening also will be significant. Two 40-foot bridges on Pole Branch will come out to 80 and 90 feet . The Mill Creek bridge on S.C. 274, now at 126 feet, will end up at 520 feet.
Questions from residents ranged from whether golf carts would be allowed on the new sidewalks to why the bridge just past Catawba Cove Drive isn’t included.
“That entire bridge and that approach are in North Carolina,” Leazer said.
Road surfaces will be built for traffic projections 20 years out, and will show a “profound difference” compared to what’s there now, Leazer said. The number of lanes and alignment are “pretty much set,” he said, but staffers Tuesday asked residents to submit thoughts about other concerns.
“This is not locked in stone yet,” Leazer said.
Leazer also said his group is “much more comfortable” with cost projections compared to previous Pennies projections. The S.C. 274/Pole Branch work is the No. 2 ranked priority in the county’s 2011 referendum. Voters approved more than $25 million for the project.
Public input will be incorporated into the plan for another six months. The right-of-way acquisition will take about a year. Construction should begin in 2017.