Lake Wylie residents mentioned Pole Branch Road as a top need for road improvements, and some want to see it go wider.
About 20 residents came out for the Sept. 14 Pennies for Progress meeting at Oakridge Elementary School. A six-member commission of residents is tasked with making the list of road needs for the Pennies 4 campaign voters will decide on in 2017. The commission has been meeting with residents throughout York County since February. The next meeting is Sept. 21 in York.
“It’s the one thing we have that belongs to the people,” said Jerry Helms, commission chair and resident of Lake Wylie for nearly 60 years. “We don’t make the list, we compile it, getting priority needs from all the areas and coming up with the best list.”
Helms said their No. 1 priority is safe roads, as well as connectivity, prosperity for economic development, quality of life and integrity.
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Pennies is a cent sales tax voters approve to fund road construction projects. Pennies 4 is the largest of all campaigns at $225 million since it started in 1997. York County began the model, which since has been used in other parts of the state. The commission takes countywide input before submitting a plan to York County Council.
“People don’t remember what these roads were like 15 years ago,” said Patrick Hamilton, Pennies program manager. “It’s important for the public to remember where we were before the program and where we are today.”
Two road projects brought up Wednesday were already approved by voters. Widening of S.C. 557 from Kingsbury Road to S.C. 49 was part of the second Pennies campaign in 2003, but funding problems bumped it to the third campaign in 2011. The same happened for a S.C. 274 to S.C. 279/Pole Branch widening from Landing Point to the state line. Neither project is slated for completion before 2020. Hamilton said the county runs the program as “pay as you go.”
“The frustrating part is we can’t change the law, procedure or what SCDOT says to make it go faster,” he said.
Pole Branch needs
Perry Johnston, who lives near Pole Branch Road, urged the commission to not only make the road a top priority in the Pennies 4 campaign, but to go wider than the planned three-lanes. At one time, the plan was for five lanes. The two traffic lanes with a center turn lane “won’t improve what we see already.”
He urged going back to five lane plan, saying “it won’t be long before it’s needed, so it’s better to disturb traffic flow one time.”
Several other residents agreed, including Mary Williams.
“(Highway 274) was visionary for 20 years looking ahead,” she said referring widening the road heading south into Rock Hill. “This three-lanes can’t be a vision.”
Hamilton reiterated if the design is changed, it will go back to the start as opposed to the current start and finish date. A design contract for the project has been awarded, and they are currently working on right of way, according to penniesforprogress.net.
More road needs
Charles Wood, on behalf of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce, also asked to extend S.C. 557 beyond the Kingsbury plan all the way to Highway 55. The chamber also asked to add resurfacing Liberty Hill Road for lake patrol, as well as consider working with Gaston County to add another bridge across the lake.
“Pennies will never have money to do bridges,” Helms said.
Resident Don Long said there needs to be a conversation between North and South Carolina to add another bridge to solve traffic issues on Highway 49 crossing Buster Boyd.
“North Carolina refuses to acknowledge South Carolina exists,” he said. “Both bridges (Buster Boyd and S.C. 279) belong to North Carolina and nothing is being done. It’s a 10-year problem and there’s no planning going on now.”
Commissioners urged residents to contact their state legislators to address such concerns.
“Your legislators need to hear that,” said commissioner Brown Simpson.
Residents on Wednesday understand some road issues are a reflection on the state, not the Pennies program.
“I’m upset at the state, it’s a safety concern at this point,” said Michelle Hult, who moved to Lake Wylie almost three years ago. “I’m disappointed with the fast growth, they don’t have a better plan.”
Making the list
The list for project needs is growing, with municipalities and transportation planning groups already submitting 59 projects, including some overlaps. The Pennies campaign won’t be able to fund them all, instead looking for the best road improvements to help the most people, for the money.
“We’re going to try to get the best list possible,” Hamilton said. “We prioritize roads so they get the funding.”
Construction begins this month on an intersection improvement at S.C. 49 and Campbell Road, approved in 2011. Shoulder widening along Paraham Road between S.C. 55 and 161 is under construction now from the 2011 vote. An intersection improvement at Griggs and Bate Harvey roads at S.C. 557 was approved in 2011, and should open next year.
The commission will finalize the list in May. York County Council will hold a public hearing and adopt or reject the list during the summer. The public referendum vote is Nov. 7, 2017.
For more information, visit penniesforprogress.net/ or call 803-684-8571.