Survey ahead for Dave Lyle extension?

Officials hope the impact of extending Dave Lyle Boulevard across the Catawba River will move from hypothetical ideas to concrete facts with studies the York County Council approved Monday.

Extending Dave Lyle Boulevard into Lancaster County was once a high priority, but money allocated from the State Infrastructure Bank for the 4-mile route has made up for earlier shortfalls in the "Pennies for Progress" program caused by rising construction costs.

Now, York County leaders want to revisit the plan and hope the survey will help convince the state to pay for the project.

The $120 million road would connect Rock Hill to U.S. 521 in Lancaster County's panhandle area, which is rapidly emerging as a Charlotte suburb. The road would cut through a wooded area of York County near the Catawba Indian Reservation, and some worry it could lure strip malls, housing developments and industry. Newland Communities already has targeted the area for a major housing development, causing some to question motivation for the extension conceived in the 1980s.

"There have been studies in the past that suggest impacts," York County Manager Jim Baker said. "These, in large part, were financed by private companies with a stake in the outcome. The only way to assess (the extension) and to say one way or another is to study it."

To objectively address environmental, developmental and financial issues, Baker and Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis proposed the assessments.

"We're interested in learning about what kind of economic sense it could make for the two counties together," Willis said. "The biggest question is the financing; we're not even in a position to go halvesies on it."

York County, like Lancaster County, doesn't have a lot of money to give to the extension now with the Pennies program scratching for $22 million to finish projects voted on a decade ago. Other high-priority road improvements are already lined up if the 1-cent sales tax for roads continues, Baker said.

York and Lancaster counties proposed jointly spending $150,000 to evaluate:

• If special taxing districts or impact fees could fund the extension;

• Jobs and income for local residents;

• What the land around the road should be used for;

• Environmental protection for the area;

• Specific routes based on traffic, current development and other impacts; and

• New cost estimates.

Lancaster County hasn't committed to its half of the cost yet, but the assessment is on the Lancaster County Council's March 31 agenda, Willis said.

Baker said York County's $75,000 for the survey is contingent on the Lancaster match.

Once funding is in place, three consultants -- The Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and Florence and Hutcheson, an engineering firm -- will complete various parts of the study.

At Monday's meeting, several council members expressed concerns about spending county money on the extension, but only Joe Cox and Curwood Chappell voted against the studies.

"We don't have $75,000 of taxpayers' money to put on something that common sense ought to tell you," Chappell said. "You've got a broke state government, State Infrastructure Bank and DOT that is billions short in fixing roads already built. ... We need funding to fix what we got."

Cox agreed, saying he wouldn't spend taxpayer money on the study when many roads in western York County are in disrepair. "I support the project in time, but I want it done through the state," Cox said.

Fellow Councilman Rick Lee said he supports the studies because he's skeptical of extending Dave Lyle Boulevard without knowing the facts and viability of the roads.

"I have serious doubts on this project," Lee said. "To say 'yes' or 'no,' we need to have public support or real data about the project. We just have anecdotal information. I support an unbiased study if they address the issues I brought tonight."

While the counties wait several months for these assessments -- the documentation likely won't be finished until the end of the year -- they'll let the State Infrastructure Bank know they might re-apply for state funding for the extension. But that doesn't mean the road will be built, Baker said. It's just to keep priority of the project high on the state's list.

Willis said York County's approach of having neutral parties evaluate the road is a good way to justify the expense, but he can't foresee the extension being built without state support.

"If it's going to happen in the near future, it's probably going to take significant involvement from the state," Willis said.