‘Not going to be painless’: Could major Rock Hill intersection lose its traffic light?

RFATS on closing Celanese Road intersection

A Rock Hill, South Carolina intersection on Celanese Road could close if traffic doesn't improve. RFATS could recommend taking a light out.
Up Next
A Rock Hill, South Carolina intersection on Celanese Road could close if traffic doesn't improve. RFATS could recommend taking a light out.

It’s the main way into Outback Steakhouse, Rock Hill Medical Plaza, Marriott, an apartment complex and other medical facilities and restaurants.

However, if it doesn’t get better, it may not be a way in at all.

Riverchase Boulevard is a major access point in Rock Hill, but it’s also immediately downwind of an Interstate 77 exit on Celanese Road.

Several traffic signals back-to-back there have long been a concern for road planners looking for ways to keep traffic moving.

Traffic where I-77 and Celanese and Cherry roads meet are why regional elected officials and transportation planners debated a third bridge across the Catawba River connecting Rock Hill and Fort Mill.

Leaders ultimately decided not to build the bridge, amid fears of the high cost and increased traffic in the Sutton Road area. There is a federal air quality grant project to connect Riverchase and Riverview Road via Ligon Drive. The idea is Ligon would allow drivers to access both roads without having to get back on Celanese.

Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study mapping data shows the project costs almost $3.7 million.

RFATS Director David Hooper told his group’s policy committee Jan. 25 that if the federal project doesn’t help, it may be time to take more drastic measures.

“Over the next three to five years, if that doesn’t produce meaningful results in how that area functions, we are recommending that you designalize Riverchase Boulevard, that closest one, and close that entry point,” Hooper said.

Taking the traffic signal out would mean Riverchase users coming from the interstate would have to drive farther down to Riverview and circle back by Ligon.

“That will not be popular,” Hooper said.

Hooper said it would be “would be pretty dramatic” to rework the ongoing federal project and cut out the Riverchase light now. Elected and transportation leaders instead could wait to see if there is any improvement from three to five years of more data, he said.

“If this (federal) project doesn’t bear fruit, I think we have to be willing to wade into the deep waters and say designalization is probably warranted,” Hooper said.

The signal, he said, is too close to the interstate. A huge volume of traffic coming south off I-77 gets caught at the first light, which is without the 35 to 40 percent growth along the corridor expected in coming years, Hooper said.

“I’ve gotten calls from people that sit there on Riverchase, who go it’s Friday afternoon, I have to sit through four and five cycles just to clear the light,” he said. “I can’t even get onto Celanese.”

Closing Riverchase wouldn’t be the only unpopular traffic fix RFATS is considering.

The RFATS committee heard about losing left turns on Highway 160 in front of Baxter and Kingsley in Fort Mill, and concrete dividers in other parts of Fort Mill and Rock Hill. The South Carolina Department of Transportation studied the Kingsley area and came up with similar recommendations to the RFATS study.

Road leaders say drastic changes will have their detractors, but sometimes the overall transportation network warrants decisions that keep the most vehicles moving as efficiently as possible. Some drivers, they say, ultimately may like the improved mobility or safety from changes.

Still, the volume of people accessing restaurants, medical sites, apartments and more via Riverchase would make designalization there a significant move.

“I say that knowing you’ve got Paces River, you’ve got the big apartment complex, you’ve got some other big facilities back there,” Hooper said. “That’s not going to be painless. But we’re getting into that realm where decisions are going to become more difficult, where the tradeoffs are going to be more notable.”

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald

John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.
Support my work with a digital subscription