State speaker backs Dave Lyle extension

Supporters of a $120 million plan to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard into Lancaster County picked up a powerful ally on Thursday.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell gave his full-throated endorsement during a visit to Rock Hill, calling it one of the most important proposals he has heard lately.

"It's an incredibly good idea," he told The Herald after an invitation-only luncheon to preview the upcoming legislative session. "It will open up an incredible area for economic development. It is expensive, but if it wasn't expensive, it wouldn't be hard to get done."

In fact, if it weren't expensive, it would have been done long before now. City and county leaders pursued the 11-mile extension in the late 1980s, but the price tag spiraled too high, and the project was shelved.

Now, a coalition of elected officials and business elites are trying to bring it back. This time, their efforts have sparked resistance from critics who say York County ought to improve already-congested roads before spending millions on new ones.

Some also decry the extension as a subsidy to private developers. Newland Communities has amassed more than 1,800 acres of nearby land and envisions a subdivision that could include as many as 2,700 homes. The company pledged $8 million toward the road.

More state money for roads?

Supporters hope to convince the state to cover much of the remaining portion, and that's where Harrell's help may prove valuable. When the House convenes next year, Harrell will push a plan to shift car sales tax revenues to the state infrastructure bank, which currently is broke.

Harrell, a Republican from Charleston, said the shift would free up $104 million a year to use on road work across South Carolina. "If we can accomplish that, we'll have the money necessary to fund the (Dave Lyle) project and a few others," he said.

Harrell met earlier Thursday with Mayor Doug Echols and York County Council Chairman Buddy Motz, as well as York County Regional Chamber of Commerce representatives.

All tout a longer Dave Lyle as an economic boon that would open up Rock Hill to Lancaster County's booming panhandle area -- and ease congestion by connecting to U.S. 521, a key artery into south Charlotte.

Others remain skeptical. Their questions center on how many commuters would use the road given that it runs east-to-west, not directly into Charlotte, and whether it would lead to more urban sprawl in a county already strained by growth.

"Mr. Harrell can talk all he wants about it," County Councilman Rick Lee said Thursday. "He doesn't know the area. He hasn't answered those questions. And frankly, nobody else has."

Lining up for a slice

From a money standpoint, winning Harrell's blessing and getting the needed cash to York County are separate obstacles. If lawmakers replenish the infrastructure bank, a host of cities and counties will be waiting in line to get a share, says state Rep. Carl Gullick.

"That's a whole different battle," said Gullick, R-Lake Wylie. "They've never gotten infrastructure bank money. We have. The way they're going to look at it is, 'It's our turn.'"

York County used SIB money in the 1990s to widen Interstate 77 and add lanes to S.C. 5 toward Cherokee County. Now, in the face of continued skepticism, supporters are hoping Harrell can deliver a second helping.