Enquirer Herald

Residents take good look at Catawba River bridge plans

Bill and Ruth Branche hope to leave their land along Mount Gallant Road in Rock Hill to their children, but now they fear a proposed bridge across the Catawba River may move them off their land - in the family for a hundred years - for good.

"I was born in the front room of that house," recalled Bill Branche, 76, Tuesday night at a meeting where 130 people showed up at Riverview Elementary School to learn about the project.

Many pored over large maps detailing a bird's-eye view of four paths the bridge might take, tracing with pointed fingers the roadways leading to the clustered trees and rooftops where they live.

An eastern York County transportation planning committee - called the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study, or RFATS - is driving the proposed bridge, which would cross the river, spanning from the area of Mount Gallant or Twin Lakes and India Hook roads in northern Rock Hill to Fort Mill near Harris Road or Sutton Road and Interstate 77.

The bridge will provide a much needed east-west connector that transportation planners say would alleviate traffic on I-77 and in Rock Hill, especially on Celanese near the interstate, while creating more connectivity for traffic moving about the county.

There's also land with potential for development in the focus area and plans for residential, commercial and mixed-use development, planners said.

The growth is coming, said David Hooper, RFATS coordinator. The task is finding a way to manage it and spread out the impact, he said Tuesday night.

The four options vary in cost and how they'll affect the environment and nearby properties. Paid for through the RFATS committee's annual federal allocation, two options would likely cost more than $50 million, and the other two, more than $90 million.

Project leaders don't yet know which properties the bridge will impact or to what extent. First the consulting firm STV will choose one of the four alignments to recommend to the committee, taking public comments from Tuesday's meeting into consideration, planners say.

Once a path is chosen, a more specific engineering study will determine impact to individual property owners, STV's Brock LaForty said Tuesday night.

For Barry Benfield and Paula Jahant, the bridge is inevitable, and they're OK with it. The couple lives on Harris Road, near where two paths connect in Fort Mill.

"It's going to happen one way or another," Benfield said.

Jahant said she's more concerned about traffic swelling at the Sutton Road exit, where a hospital might be built. The hospital likely would bring more buildings and medical centers to the area especially if the bridge lets out there, she said.

Donna Voss, who lives in the Sunset Point neighborhood just north of Twin Lakes Road in Rock Hill, said she was concerned project planners couldn't say more about how property owners would be impacted.

"They're not talking about the impact on the people who live there," Voss said.

Her neighbor Maureen Rosenberg said the neighborhood has only been around for a decade or so. Two options would go right by the neighborhood's entrance and affect property values and quality of life, she said.

To Bill Branche, the less expensive options which come by his land seem most likely, but he's hoping to make his opposition known.

"We can't govern these things," he said. "They'll just roll over us. We just don't want to roll over."