The York County Regional Chamber of Commerce has endorsed plans for a $100 million bridge connecting Dave Lyle Boulevard to Lancaster County, marking the latest show of support for a project gaining renewed momentum.
The hope is that the chamber's backing will help convince the state to pay for the 11-mile project, originally conceived in the late 1980s as a way to connect Dave Lyle near the Rock Hill Galleria to U.S. 521 in Lancaster. It would require a bridge crossing the Catawba River.
"We felt like there are so many people that are jumping on this bandwagon either for or against it," said Carol Maroska, chairwoman of the chamber board. "It's our job to go ahead and take a position."
Even if the project wins approval, it could take as long as a decade to be built. In the meantime, opposition is already coming from neighbors against the idea of turning wooded land into a highway.
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Those neighbors fear the push for an extension is closely tied to a developer's plans for a massive housing development nearby.
Newland Communities has gradually amassed more than 1,800 acres in rural southeastern York County and envisions a subdivision that could include some 3,000 homes. But Newland can't build the community it wants without the extension. That's why the company has offered to put up $8 million toward construction costs.
"It's a developer's road at this point," said neighbor Betty Rankin, an outspoken critic of Newland's plans. "There was no mention of Dave Lyle until Newland came in. If it had been a priority (before), it would've already been built."
Proceed without Newland?
But supporting the extension doesn't equate to backing Newland's plans as well, said Buddy Motz, chairman of the York County Council.
"If we can find a way to separate Newland from this, I think we can partner with the city," Motz said Thursday. "I would hate for us to lose the opportunity because we couldn't work together on the cooperation."
Motz and other leaders have long believed connecting Rock Hill to Lancaster County would be an economic boon, bringing new shoppers to the Galleria area and attracting new businesses elsewhere.
Few are as familiar with the possibilities as the Norman family of Rock Hill, which developed the Galleria in the early 1990s and is now planning another shopping complex nearby.
"It's kind of like connecting the dots on a puzzle," said third-generation developer Warren Norman III. "Connect the two and it's going to fill in."
Congestion relief also figures in. Last month, a major wreck snarled traffic for hours on Interstate 77, bringing attention to the need for alternate routes over the Catawba River.
State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, echoed Motz's sentiment, saying that rallying support for the extension may require putting off Newland's plans.
"I'm just thinking out loud, but it's possible we may be able to do the project and Newland not be approved," he said. "I don't know that the $8 million is crucial to getting the project done. That's something we may need to seriously consider, if that's the way we can get consensus."
Hayes has invited 20 officials from Rock Hill and York and Lancaster counties to a lunch meeting Monday at Thursday's Too restaurant to talk about options.
Newland: Talks progressing
But whether the two initiatives can remain separate is an open question.
Based on individual talks with City Council members in recent weeks, Newland's regional vice president said Thursday he is "optimistic" the development can move forward in coming months.
"I think they see the merits of what my project is," said Larry Burton, who directs Newland's Mid-Atlantic operations from an office in Charlotte. "It'd be nice to say we're the catalyst to get that (Dave Lyle) project reactivated. If we don't do it now, it'll probably never happen."
That's because environmental studies that would allow the extension route are set to expire in March and could take years to be renewed. Hayes said a decision on applying for the money must be made by late this year.
Mayor Doug Echols was out of town Thursday, but has said he, too, views Newland and the extension effort separately. However, Echols has also said the city ought to "seriously consider" Newland's plans given their massive scope.
Until the relationship between the two issues is resolved, Hayes said it will be difficult to achieve harmony -- and make a strong case to the state.
"We've still got some work cut out for us on getting others behind it," he said.