Enquirer Herald

Bypass may depend on stimulus

YORK -- With a price tag nearly double what was originally quoted to voters in 1997, York County Manager Jim Baker said completion of the Hwy. 5 Bypass around York may rely on federal stimulus money.

"To finish the Hwy. 5 Bypass is a lot higher than the estimates in 2007, a lot of that is because of the fluctuation in the price of asphalt," Baker told the York City Council last week. "The county included a $10 million bond issue and has some unexpected C-funds to help mitigate the cost, and the bypass is our number one priority on our list for stimulus money.

"And it's shovel ready."

Baker addressed the city council at the request of Mayor Eddie Lee, who had requested an update on the project, also known as Alexander Love Hwy., that was originally part of the 1997 Pennies for Progress program.

Baker said he had been told the county will get "a significant amount of stimulus money," but he didn't have an exact figure. The project is ready to move forward, and at least one segment of the road, from Hwy. 49 to Lincoln Road, will be complete in time for the opening of the new York High School in August 2010.

"The design is complete and SCDOT is reviewing it," Baker said.

That process can take up to 60 days. On June 1, Baker plans to send the project out for bids, the county will hold a mandatory pre-bid conference for all interested companies to address the project timelines, and make sure the contractors understand the mandatory nature of completing the first segment on time.

"We have had 11 fatalities on the bypass, 210 serious wrecks; there is a safety issue," Lee said. "We want the bypass widened so people don't get killed going to the new high school."

"I live in York, so I see it, I drive it every day," Baker responded. "I know."

While completing the first segment will help with traffic directly in front of the new high school, Councilman Mark Boley was concerned that if the rest of the road was not widened as well that traffic bottlenecks could be just as bad or even worse than existing conditions. Worried that a long delay was possible between widening the first segment and the rest of Alexander Love Hwy, he asked Baker for a timeline for completion of the entire project.

"We do not have a specific timeline, but we expect to get that through the bid process," Baker replied. "We wanted to make sure they knew this first segment is paramount."

"There's also economic growth," Lee added. "There will be jobs to employ people on the bypass."

Baker said real problem that has plagued the Pennies programs (1997 and 2003) has been that "construction inflation" was not taken into account when the programs were set up and that inflation has been running at 8 percent a year.

"In nine years it doubles the cost," Baker said. "So now (the individual projects) are running about twice what was estimated."

The county will need $169 million in addition to the $173 million voters approved in 2003 to finish all of the 2003 projects, Baker said.

"It will probably depend on whether voters approve a continuation (of the program) in 2010," he said.

But the county has learned from earlier mistakes Baker added. In addition to bringing all the projects in-house, after losing faith in CME the company hired to run the 2003 program, and accounting for increasing construction costs, Baker anticipates other changes to the way the program is handled in coming years.

"For the next round we will look at bond options to work against delays," Baker said.