Enquirer Herald

S.C. 5 bypass funding OK'd

YORK -- A dozen years after it was first promised to voters in the 1997 Pennies for Progress program, funding for Alexander Love Highway, a.k.a. the Hwy. 5 bypass has finally been secured.

The S.C. Department of Transportation Commission last week voted to approve $5.75 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project, according to Commissioner Sarah Nuckles. It was the largest sum for a single project Nuckles requested for her district, which mirrors the Fifth Congressional District.

Each of the six commissioners wound up with control of approximately $17.5 million he or she could put toward projects in his or her district, as long as those projects met the criteria contained in the ARRA legislation.

"I wanted to look at projects that could be leveraged with other financing," Nuckles said. "Hwy. 5 had the Pennies program, which is a wonderful program, despite some funding issues.

"A lot of other counties are doing the same thing now too. It is one of the most direct and effective uses of tax dollars because those dollars stay in the county, they don't go to Columbia first."

The roadway also has received some safety and congestion mitigation matching grants from the federal government, along with some SCDOT participation agreements that have helped with the funding, according to Pennies for Progress Program Manager Phil Leazer. Those funding sources all predated passage of ARRA.

"Based on everything we have to date, all the county funding, Pennies, grants, SCDOT help ... based on our last assessment we think we are about $6 million short to complete the entire '97 Pennies program," Leazer said. That assessment was conducted prior to the announcement of the $5.75 million from ARRA funds.

Now with the injection of stimulus money, some of the tax revenue from the Pennies program can me put toward other remaining 1997 Pennies projects.

"We had the Pennies engineers there at the meeting and we think that's enough money to allow a total of three Pennies projects to happen and close out the '97 program," Nuckles said.

The total cost of the project is estimated around $22 million Leazer said, which includes all the engineering work and right-of-way acquisition. Total construction costs will probably fall in the $15 million - $18 million range.

"It's a long overdue project," York Mayor Eddie Lee said.

Lee and other York officials have been pushing for the completion of the project for years and have been keeping track of some of the grim reminders of why the widening is needed -- 11 people have been killed in collisions on the bypass, and more than 200 serious wrecks have occurred.

"Let's look forward to a widened bypass that will be safer and bring new businesses," Lee said.

The county expects to open bidding on the Hwy. 5 Bypass widening project on Tuesday, July 14, Leazer said. A mandatory pre-bid conference for anyone interested in pursuing the project will be held approximately 30 days prior to the bid opening.

The purpose of the conference is to ensure every contractor understands that the segment of the bypass between Lincoln Road and Hwy. 49 must be completed by August 2010, when the new York Comprehensive High School is slated to open.

The bypass project was among more than 500 submitted to SCDOT for ARRA funding, Commissioner Nuckles said. It met all the criteria laid out in that federal legislation for inclusion -- most of the engineering work is done, most of the rights-of-way have been obtained and it can begin within 120 days.

"We had to take a very prudent, conservative approach," Nuckles said. "As they were recommending projects the rules were changing."

Nuckles also directed $1.2 million to resurface a section of Hwy. 160 East in Indian Land, between Belden Wire and Hwy. 521. Additionally she directed roughly $823,000 to each of the other 13 counties in her 14 county district.