A new study shows that the "Pennies for Progress" program has helped York County prepare for traffic growth although one county council member said more progress could happen with help from the state.
"We're not getting help from Columbia on the roads," said council member Tom Smith, who represents the Lake Wylie area. "There wasn't anything coming through the state to help with maintenance and expansion, so the county took it upon itself."
Pennies for Progress, the county's additional 1-cent sales tax program for road improvements, has suffered money problems and construction delays. The study was compiled by county staff at the council's request to show how many roads would have been improved if the program wasn't approved by voters in 1997.
"Without the penny, the county would be 25 to 30 years behind the growth already," said Councilman Paul Lindemann, who represents the Fort Mill area. "People talk about parking lots now during rush hour. We'd have seven hours of parking lot a day, waiting to get off Cherry Road and getting to the interstate from Tega Cay and Fort Mill."
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Money from the program was used as a match for the state to contribute to larger projects, such as widening Interstate 77 and upgrading its ramps at I-77's exit 82 in Rock Hill.
Without the program, the state Department of Transportation would have approved improvements to only six county roads -- S.C. 49, S.C. 55, S.C. 5 Business, Tom Hall Street, Gold Hill Road and S.C. 161, the study said. The Pennies program promised nearly 40 projects with a fourth of them completed to date.
However, Smith would like to see a larger contribution from the state. He recommends the county talk with the state representatives about getting more money for road work and collaborating on Pennies projects.
But he acknowledged the state's lack of funds to resurface roads. "Unless they raise the gas tax, I don't know where they'll go," he said.
State Rep. Carl Gullick, R-Lake Wylie, said state money for roads is as bad as it was a decade ago.
"If York County ever loses Pennies for Progress, it will be a huge setback," said Gullick, who served as chairman of the York County Council when the program was first approved. "We always complained about being overlooked, but we leveraged Pennies money to get State Infrastructure Bank help on the first pass. Now, a lot of other communities have done a lot of work to make sure they're next."
York County was the first in the state to pass the 1-cent sales tax for road projects; since then, several counties have followed suit. The vote in 1997 approved improvement to 14 roads. In 2003, voters agreed to continue the tax to upgrade another 25 projects.
Pennies has helped the county meet the demands of its growing population, Council Chairman Buddy Motz said.
"Had we not done it, we would have been on the negative side of trying to manage the quality of life in the county," he said.
Many have criticized how long it's taken the county to complete these projects, and western York County residents have been fighting for upgrades to their deteriorating roads.
"The pitfalls and shortfalls with money are to be expected," Fort Mill's Lindemann said. "I don't know if we're just under budgeting or trying to promise too many things. The biggest thing with this project is to get '97 done first. Once we get that done, they'll definitely vote for another one."
Projects including 'Pennies for Progress'