Local

Think long term in intersection upgrade

The decision by the York County Council to leave the intersection of Porter and Firetower roads largely as is would be more convincing if it had been directly supported by engineers who originally recommended major changes at the intersection.

The Y-shaped intersection, located about a mile from Interstate 77, has been a point of contention for some time. The intersection originally had been pegged as a 2003 "Pennies for Progress" project, paid for with the 1-cent sales tax increase approved by voters to improve roads in the county.

That project would have turned the intersection into a standard T-shape 300 feet east, just behind the lounge that sits in the "Y" between the two roads. Engineers favored this plan because it would improve traffic flow and give drivers a better view of oncoming traffic.

But owners of the property affected by the proposed change have protested the plan since 2005. They favor an alternate design that would do little more than add new curbs and gutters and make small right-turn improvements at the intersection.

In March, the York County Council voted 5-2 to override the recommendations of county engineers and approve the alternate plan. But in September, Rock Hill school board members asked the council to reconsider.

Board members are concerned about the increased amount of traffic at the intersection when nearby Mount Holly Elementary School opens next year. Engineers have predicted that peak-hour traffic will increase from less than 800 vehicles to nearly 1,400 vehicles in the near future.

But after listening to a report from County Manager Jim Baker, the council opted to go with its original decision to make only minor changes to the intersection. Baker said the advantages of making the more extensive changes did not justify the cost.

Baker had consulted with the school board, affected property owners, the S.C. Department of Transportation and Capital Management and Engineering -- which manages the Pennies for Progress program -- before reporting to the council. The county manager said that going with the T-shaped design would add $440,000 to the cost of the project, which now has an estimated price tag of $800,000.

Again, though, we would like to know if the engineers who recommended the more extensive changes are comfortable with the leaving the Y-shaped intersection in place. Councilman Rick Lee, one of the two dissenters in the March vote, has not been won over by Baker's recommendation.

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

We agree. Disinterested engineers make decisions based on improved public safety and sensible traffic flow, not just the interests of a few property owners.

While the revised plan might cost less in the short run, it could prove obsolete in a few years. It might be cheaper in the long run to do the job right in the first place.

We respect Baker's efforts to talk with all interested parties. But, in the end, the opinion of the experts is the one that really counts.

We hope last week's decision by the council is not the last word on this issue.

IN SUMMARY

York County Council approves changes to intersection contrary to what engineers advise.

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