Carowinds Boulevard to get $1.7 million facelift

The main road into two states’ favorite theme park will soon be getting a $1.7 million dollar facelift.

York County has received a $1.7 million grant for improvements to Carowinds Boulevard, the main artery delivering parkgoers from Interstate 77 to the Carowinds theme park which straddles the state line.

The money is meant to improve traffic flow in one of York County’s busiest areas.

“The area between Carowinds and I-77 is one of the most congested corridors in the county,” said Phil Leazer, York County’s engineering project manager. “This $1.7 million is not going to solve everything, but it will allow us to do some improvements.”

The first phase of the project will install a concrete median barrier on Carowinds Boulevard in the area of Foothills Way, Festival Drive and Lakemont Business Park. Planners hope to improve traffic flow by controlling the space available for motorists to make turns.

Funding comes from an infrastructure grant provided by the S.C. Department of Commerce, using money raised from the Carowinds Designated Development District. The 15-year project raised money for infrastructure projects around the park using a portion of the proceeds generated by ticket sales. Previously, funds from the development district paid for $858,000 worth of improvements to an I-77 exit ramp, and another $840,000 went to the widening of Carowinds Boulevard East.

The development district designation ended in 2014, and this grant transfers the balance of the remaining funds to York County’s engineering department. The money has to be spent in the Carowinds district, although the traffic affected goes well beyond the park itself.

“A lot of drivers use that as a pass-through. People from both states use (Carowinds Boulevard) as a way to get back and forth,” said Assistant County Manager David Larson. “It’s a busy corridor.”

County officials think more work will be needed after the latest phase to make Carowinds Boulevard as driver-friendly as motorists would like. If the $1.7 million from Commerce wouldn’t pay for all of it, then engineers will seek grant money from state or federal sources to keep things going. Future roadwork may even be added to the county’s next “Pennies for Progress” list for road improvements, Leazer said.

“We’ll do what we can to search for any funds we can put into that interchange,” Leazer said. “If that means we’ll have to do it in chunks, we can do that.”

Larson agreed more funding sources will likely be needed to complete work on Carowinds Boulevard.

“I don’t know how far this will get us,” Larson said, “but probably not as far as we would like.”

There’s a time limit of one year on when the funds can be spent, so engineers will begin design work on the improvements immediately. Bidding for the project likely will take place next spring, with construction set to begin during the summer of 2015.