A new bridge over the Catawba River is likely many years away, but widening the U.S. 21 bridge is expected to begin in two years -- extra lanes that could ease the traffic snarls that paralyzed York County's morning commutes Wednesday.
Planners have known York County needs another Catawba River crossing to keep traffic moving. Right now, the county has four bridges: Interstate 77, U.S. 21 from Rock Hill to Fort Mill, the Buster Boyd Bridge in Lake Wylie and S.C. 5 to Lancaster County.
"Some people believe an additional crossing of the river would be important (in an emergency)," said Myron George, program manager for York County's "Pennies for Progress" highway projects. George is with Capital Management and Engineering in Rock Hill.
A major wreck on I-77 causes major problems, leaders said.
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"You basically knock out a lifeline for a lot of people in York County," said S.C. Rep. Carl Gullick, R-River Hills.
But bridge plans that have been discussed for years lie over the distant horizon. Those include another Catawba River crossover bridge from Twin Lakes to Sutton roads, and the extension of Dave Lyle Boulevard over the river and into Lancaster County.
Work on the U.S. 21 bridge is expected to begin in 2009, according to Sid Bacchus, S.C. Department of Transportation assistant program manager for RFATS -- the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Regional Transportation Study. DOT plans to use federal money in its bridge construction fund to pay for it.
The other bridges will have to wait for funding, and it could be a long wait.
"There's no money for another bridge," Gullick said. "The situation is going to have to be a lot more critical."
But for some, the situation already is critical.
"Even without the wreck, another bridge is needed bad," said Fort Mill mayor Charles Powers, who is also the RFATS chairman. "It's going to be years before we see another bridge, but we're pushing it all we can."