Road changes remain as planned

Traffic moves along Firetower Road in Rock Hill Monday. York County is going ahead with plans to keep the intersection of Firetower and Porter roads largely as it is.
Traffic moves along Firetower Road in Rock Hill Monday. York County is going ahead with plans to keep the intersection of Firetower and Porter roads largely as it is.

Y marks the spot where Porter Road meets Firetower Road, and improvements will keep it that shape.

Project engineers will move forward with plans approved in March to make slight changes to the busy intersection despite the Rock Hill School Board's request for the county to re-consider the original engineers' design, which would have squared the intersection into a T-shape.

Construction could start this spring.

The Firetower and Porter intersection, located near Interstate 77 in south Rock Hill, originally was earmarked for improvement as a 2003 "Pennies for Progress" project, paid for with a one-cent sales tax increase. Pennies for Progress is York County's road improvement program.

With a new school opening in the area, school officials questioned the safety of the intersection with an expected increase in traffic volume.

York County Manager Jim Baker told York County Council members at a meeting Monday that the T-shaped intersection was superior from an engineering standpoint but may not be the best and most responsible choice.

"There's no question that a perpendicular intersection is better for traffic and sightline," Baker said. "But in this instance, the benefits are only incremental. There is heavy traffic on Porter Road making a left turn to Firetower Road, and changing the intersection won't impact that."

Going with a T-shaped design would add more than $440,000 to the plans, which now have a price tag of more than $800,000.

Baker also noted the costs must be weighed against advantages of its current Y-shaped configuration. In changing the intersection to a T-shape, Baker said improvements would be minimal at an intersection with few crashes.

The council didn't vote on the intersection Monday because Baker's recommendation was to stick with the design it approved in March.

Baker consulted with the school board, affected property owners, the South Carolina Department of Transportation and Capital Management and Engineering -- which manages the Pennies for Progress program -- before making his recommendation.

Councilman Rick Lee, who supported the T-shaped intersection in March, pointed out the county is spending more than $800,000 to build an intersection in a way that goes against the recommendation of engineers and that may have to be redone.

"The council has no place deciding on the nuts and bolts of these projects," Lee said. "In the future, we should stay out of these decisions and leave it to engineers."

The recommendation Baker prepared mentioned the council could consider changing how road improvements and changes are presented and voted on to streamline a process that, in this case, spanned more than two years. Baker said the council will not have to vote on changing how Pennies for Progress projects are presented to council.

A public meeting on changing the intersection to a T-shape was held in January 2005. The council voted 5-2 to keep the intersection the same and make slight improvements at the request of affected property owners. Councilman Curwood Chappell broached the issue originally.

Lee also noted that shifting money to higher-priority Pennies for Progress projects to save money for lower-level projects was not consistent with plans and previous actions on the program.

Chappell said Monday he was content with the recommendation.

School board members asked the county in September look at the design of the intersection again. The design approved by council in March called for small improvements, including left turn lanes instead of moving Porter Road to intersect with Firetower Road 300 feet east. Baker said the further east the intersection is moved, the more expensive it becomes because of houses in the area.

Firetower and Porter roads meet about a mile off Interstate 77 and less than a mile from the triangle of Main Street, Anderson and Albright roads.

Affected property owners didn't comment on changes to the intersection.

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