New road should ease traffic flow, spur development

4.2 length in miles

15 cost in millions of dollars

7 travel time in minutes

The 4-mile southern bypass is in the planning and design stage. The first leg -- from Fort Mill Parkway to Doby's Bridge -- is expected to be completed in 2009.

It takes seven minutes and about 4.2 miles now to zip from S.C. 160 up Springfield Parkway to Interstate 77, even observing the speed limit.

The long-awaited, two-lane northern bypass, officially dubbed Springfield Parkway, opened for traffic in the past two weeks. Finishing touches -- more surfacing and alignment of Gold Hill and Deerfield roads across the bypass -- won't be completed until the fall. Several agencies coordinated efforts to make the road passable before school starts to orient families to new routes before the usual first-day-of school traffic confusion.

The bypass promises to speed traffic flow so motorists do not have to ply Fort Mill's Main Street en route to the interstate. But the road also should spur commercial business and light industrial development to boost the county's tax base.

"Seven minutes is about the time it would take to sit through two stoplights in the town of Fort Mill, maybe longer during the rush hour," said Myron George, who oversees York County's Pennies for Progress road improvement program. York County voters approved sales tax increases to pay for the road improvement program in 1997 and 2003.

Studies indicate that when a road is built or improved, "property values can almost double overnight," said Mark Farris, York County's director of economic development. The road's proximity to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and uptown Charlotte enhances value of bordering property.

Farris roughly estimates the value of commercially-zoned property around nearby Knights Stadium, for example, at $125,000 to $200,000 an acre.

"You'll find an increased demand for office space," Farris said. "I think medical offices will be interested. Any kind of retail. I think Fort Mill is an underserved retail market right now based on the tremendous population growth."

What's new

The county and Corinthian Properties, which is developing nearly 300 acres of commercial property around the stadium along with Fort Mill's Jennings family, already have extended Deerfield Road in a loop from behind the stadium to a second entrance and exit along the bypass.

The developers, who awaited the bypass' completion, plan a $200 million mixed use development dubbed Gold Hill Commons. Dust stirred by big equipment is flying at two large construction sites along Deerfield.

New and improved traffic signals with turn lanes have been installed at the bypass's intersections with U.S. 21 and the U.S. 21 bypass.

Those lights and lanes are in anticipation of more commerce throughout that area.

Lee and Tom Ewbanks own 180 acres in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 21 and the bypass and have development plans for it, Farris said.

Another 80 acres await development on the east side of U.S. 21, he added.

"The bypass certainly will encourage the owners of those properties to pull the trigger on these developments," Farris said.

Earl Coulston of Morningstar development is already building a Bloom's supermarket and other strip commerce on the northeast quadrant of Regent Parkway and U.S. 21.

Paul Lindemann, Fort Mill's representative on the York County Council, said he has heard more residential developments are planned near the bypass.

"I think that whole area will be a baby Pineville (N.C.) in no time," he said.

Lindemann cites an additional boon to come with the southern bypass, an approximate 4-mile, $15 million Pennies for Progress project that will sweep east from the existing end of the Fort Mill Parkway at the U.S. Food Service distribution center to Doby's Bridge Road, then north to connect with the northern bypass, or Springfield Parkway, at S.C. 160.

"I think everybody's going to benefit when the entire loop develops," he said. "It will tie in with the Celanese development (in Rock Hill), the new life museum and the new bridge into Fort Mill."

The southern bypass is in the planning and design stage. Its first leg from Fort Mill Parkway to Doby's Bridge is expected to be completed in 2009. The Fort Mill Town Council on Monday will consider the county's request to preserve rights-of-way along the southern bypass's path. Completion of the design gives the council a better idea of what areas to preserve.

'Something to be proud of'

George points out five Fort Mill schools have cropped up along the northern bypass route since the southernmost leg of it was built several years ago. Nation Ford High School will open its doors for class for the first time on Aug. 22. Already along the parkway are Fort Mill and Springfield elementary and middle schools.

The county and school district combined efforts to provide access lanes into the new high school.

"It's extremely important, especially prior to school opening, so people can become accustomed to it," Fort Mill Schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt said of the bypass. "We are so limited in traffic patterns without that bypass. I hope people will be patient while we work out the new traffic patterns."

York County Manager Jim Baker, recently arrived from St. Louis, called the whole Pennies for Progress program "something to be proud of."

"The citizens recognized there are growth problems, and they are putting their own money into it," Baker said of the sales tax. "In a lot of areas they are just waiting for the state to do it, and it has been a nightmare."

So fasten your seat belt. York County is in the path of growth.

"I think we are in the orange cone age for another couple of decades," Farris said.