Dave Lyle push gets mixed reception

Despite strong support from York County's business community, the effort to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard into Lancaster County faces an uncertain future.

Rock Hill leaders have backed the extension idea for years, but elsewhere in York County, interest isn't nearly as strong. And even if it were, South Carolina has no money to spend on the project.

The state's infrastructure bank, used for large-scale road projects, is "fully tapped out" and hasn't approved any new projects since last June, its director said Friday.

"If they can lobby for more money for us, we'll be glad to spend it. Right now, there is none," said Debra Rountree, who has managed the bank since its inception 10 years ago. "We would receive an application, I assume, and just kind of put it on hold."

This week, the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce endorsed the extension idea, originally conceived in the late 1980s as a way to connect Dave Lyle near the Rock Hill Galleria to U.S. 521 in Lancaster.

Original estimates put the cost at $100 million, but more recent projections range closer to $120 million. Ten years ago, the state approved money, but the deal fell apart due to discrepancies over cost.

This time, it's too early to worry about funding, said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill. Local leaders need to first decide whether the project is worth pursuing once again.

"When we finally get some kind of consensus, then we'll come up with some kind of game plan and see what kind of money there is," Hayes said. "In my opinion, we're not to that point yet. We may never be. And there may not be money when we are."

Rountree said state legislators could decide to set aside money for the bank in next year's budget. They didn't this year.

A pipeline for retailers

A longer Dave Lyle would be an economic boon, supporters say, bringing in waves of new revenue by connecting Interstate 77 to U.S. 521.

Potential shoppers in Lancaster's booming Panhandle area would be within an easy 15-minute drive, said Jeff Kirby, who took over as the mall's general manager in February.

"Without this road, the chances of them coming into Rock Hill are not good," Kirby said. "We're losing out on a lot of opportunities. It's not only dollars the Galleria is losing, it's dollars York County is losing."

In endorsing the project, chamber leaders cited York County's land-use plan, which calls for a network of roads that allow for "sound growth and economic development."

But York County Councilman Rick Lee wonders how a longer Dave Lyle Boulevard would fit with those goals.

"The people that are going to make all the money out of this are developers and track homebuilders," Lee said. "We need to look after the folks who are not part of this bonanza, the normal York County resident who is going to be run over if we don't take steps to manage the growth."

Lee said he'd be more likely to support the project if local officials agreed to restrict development along the road, at least in initial years.

State Rep. Carl Gullick, R-Lake Wylie, wonders whether the money could be better spent elsewhere.

"Let's fix Dave Lyle, the part that we already have," Gullick said. "Let's face it, it doesn't work very well -- forget Christmas. Anytime we look at the extension, we've got to look at the congestion that already exists."

Where Newland stands

Many neighbors link the renewed interest in Dave Lyle Boulevard to a developer's plans for a massive housing development nearby. Newland Communities has amassed more than 1,800 acres and envisions a subdivision that could include 2,700 homes.

Based on recent talks with the city, Newland is "optimistic" the project can move forward within months. Even without any approvals from the city, the land's current zoning allows for as many as 900 homes.

"That's what we were prepared to do when we purchased the property -- until we realized there was a higher and better use for the piece of property," said Larry Burton, Newland's vice president for operations in the Mid-Atlantic region.

That use involves shopping and dining -- as well as a lot more houses -- as part of an master-planned community. It also requires Dave Lyle to reach the property, which explains why Newland has pledged $8 million toward construction costs.

Newland hopes local leaders will get behind the extension, a prospect that appears clouded given current sentiments. If it doesn't happen, the company will consider options for developing without the road.

"I can't just sit and hold a piece of property," Burton said.