A massive shopping center planned behind the Rock Hill Galleria promises more traffic headaches along the notorious stretch of Dave Lyle Boulevard sometimes called "malfunction junction."
"That problem is not going to do anything but get worse," Mayor Doug Echols said recently. "When people hear about the new retail planned out there, they'll want to take advantage of it. But they're also going to shake their heads and wonder, 'How am I going to get to it?'"
The answer might lie with an idea quietly gaining support inside City Hall.
Planners are exploring prospects for a new bridge above Interstate 77, just north of Dave Lyle, that would connect the back of Manchester Village to a road slated to run behind the Galleria.
An overpass would allow drivers to zip from Mount Gallant Road to the mall area without having to get on Dave Lyle, where traffic stacks up at a gauntlet of stoplights widely considered the most congested stretch of road York County. During Christmastime, for example, cars have been known to stack up back to the Anderson Road overpass a half-mile away.
"That's going to come out at the end of this to be the cheapest solution that has a major impact," said a local road expert familiar with the problem. "It will prove to be a good, cost-effective solution."
Problems have festered
Building an "express route" over I-77 also would mean spending millions to fix a predicament made worse by some officials have called short-sighted planning over the past decade. Aside from more taxpayer dollars, it would require reams of bureaucracy because federal regulators must sign off.
"Any time you do any project that involves a federal highway, it's always a major undertaking," said Vic Edwards, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation. "There are a lot of things that have to be considered. It's a very lengthy process."
City leaders are willing to be creative because they know congestion along Dave Lyle will only get worse.
In 2001, roughly 21,000 cars per day traveled the stretch Dave Lyle Boulevard west of I-77. By 2025, traffic is projected to more than double to about 49,000 per day.
It's all because of an influx of chain restaurants and big-box retailers that outpaces what city officials foresaw in the late 1990s. Now, more stores are on the way on I-77's eastern side, where work starts this year to turn woods behind the Galleria into a $144 million complex that will eventually equal the size of Manchester.
No tenants have been named, but the plans add more urgency to correcting a series of flaws that have emerged since Manchester opened eight years ago.
• Traffic lights have not been synchronized, which causes cars to back up at both Manchester entrances (near the Olive Garden restaurant and Books-A-Million) and at the ramps for I-77.
• Short lanes fill up too quickly with cars turning left at the two entrances.
• Turn lanes with no arrow force drivers to make snap judgments about whether to turn in front of oncoming cars.
Manchester Village developer Tony Berry and city planners acknowledge their failure to anticipate that most shoppers wouldn't use the Olive Garden entrance to the shopping center. Drivers are dissuaded because the entrance is further away and at first glance doesn't appear to connect to the main strip of retailers.
Bob Ray, a software specialist who follows local transportation issues, takes a broader perspective.
"Different groups were not talking to each other," said Ray, a former computer consultant for the city. "Just seemed like it was going through the channels of City Hall, but nobody was really looking at the whole picture."
More immediate fixes
The overpass road, envisioned on wooded land owned by the city next to Manchester Cinemas, would connect with John Ross Parkway behind the city's soccer complex. City officials say it represents the kind of long-range thinking too often lacking in the past.
"If we want this area to grow, and we do, we've got to start thinking about traffic planning on a more comprehensive basis than we have," City Manager Carey Smith said.
Before the idea goes anywhere, some short-term fixes appear closer to progressing.
The most immediate option is to add more turn lanes into the shopping center at Olive Garden and Books-A-Million. Traffic planners believe the existing roadway leaves just enough space so that a widening won't be necessary.
A new study aimed at convincing the state to install the extra lanes is scheduled to start this week, officials say. The results will be sent to DOT in about a month, and the hope is for work to start by mid-year in time for a Thanksgiving finish.
Looming above all else is the revived push for extending Dave Lyle eastward over the Catawba River and into Lancaster County. York County has commissioned the University of South Carolina's business school to do an economic impact study exploring tax revenues and jobs created by the proposed 11-mile parkway, which will cost at least $120 million.
Those talks are expected to resume when findings are published later this year.
In the meantime, long-timers can point to irony behind the traffic woes on Dave Lyle. The road was originally designed as a limited-access expressway offering quick service between downtown and the mall. At many times, it seems to offer anything but.
and is not intended to indicate an exact plan