Fort Mill Times

Running out of roads in Fort Mill Township

Rush hour traffic plods along Hwy. 160 West near Gold Hill Road. Several road improvement projects are in the works for that area and elsewhere in York County.
Rush hour traffic plods along Hwy. 160 West near Gold Hill Road. Several road improvement projects are in the works for that area and elsewhere in York County.

Editor's note: This is the fifth and final installment of a series that examines the impact of growth on infrastructure.

Although the growth of some new local developments have slowed in recent months, thousands of new homes will eventually be built across the township.

More than 14,000 new homes have been approved for construction in developments in the fast-growing Indian Land Panhandle since 2000 and Lancaster County Planning Director Chris Karres estimates that 4,000 of those homes are already occupied. Another 10,000 are in various stages of construction and development.

On the York County side of the township, in addition to 9,642 new homes occupied in the last 10 years, approximately 10,000 more are in the pipeline. New homes means new roads to build and maintain and public officials aren't always sure how they can keep up.

In Lancaster County, officials are struggling to come up with ways to pay for roads. The county's budget is stretched so thin that the county council decided in July that it could no longer accept new roads into the county maintenance system. The county's road maintenance budget is $1.6 million, up $200,000 from last year. With that money, the department maintains 1,000 miles of roads, including 700 miles worth that are not paved.

The department doesn't even have the necessary equipment to maintain roads with curbs and gutters, which are the type of roads that are typically being built in new neighborhoods, according to Public Works Director Darrin Robinson.

The county's new stance on road maintenance is causing concern among developers. Ron Willing, senior land manager for McCar Homes, the developers of Rosemont in Indian Land, said he has never heard of a county not accepting new roads.

"They [Lancaster County] claim it's lack of funds," said Willing. "But they accept our tax money every single year. And where it goes, who knows. This is a new thing for us. We've developed in rural areas and they have all planned ahead."

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the county is working with developers, including Willing, on a new county ordinance that would allow new developments to bring their roads into the county maintenance system. The ordinance would set higher standards for road construction. If a road meets those standards, he said, the road would automatically be accepted into the county's road maintenance system.

"The benefit to the county would be that the standard we are proposing, if the road was built to that standard it would be there for a good long time," Willis said. "It's not a road we'd have to spend a lot of time maintaining."

In York County, residents have twice approved massive road building projects through the Pennies for Progress 1-cent sales tax program in 1997 and 2003. County officials are currently working on a third Pennies installment likely to face voters in the coming years, and have recently taken over the remaining 1997 and 2003 Pennies projects from CME, the contractor the county had hired to carry out the program.

Meanwhile, the county faces a shortfall of several million dollars for the 2003 program. A similar shortfall in the 1997 program was overcome with additional state and federal funds a few years ago. Despite the funding problems, county officials claim York County would be much worse off today if voters had not approved the plans.

"The Pennies program gives us the opportunity to work with planners to get roads in the right place," county engineer Phil Leazer said.

The county maintains approximately 590 miles of roads, Leazer said. Roughly 270 miles of them are paved, the rest are gravel.

Since the first Pennies program passed in 1997, the county has widened Hwy. 160 West from Hwy. 21 to Gold Hill Road from two lanes to five, and built the Fort Mill Northern Bypass, also known as Springfield Parkway.

Several other road projects from the 2003 program are in various stages in the planning process. Those include the Fort Mill Southern Bypass, which Leazer said will be constructed in two phases and could take up to four years to complete; A connector road (Hubert Graham Way) from Stonecrest Boulevard to Gold Hill Road, and widening the two-lane stretch of Hwy. 160 West from Gold Hill Road to Zoar Road to three lanes. There's also a plan to widen the Hwy. 21 Bridge over the Catawba River to five lanes with bike and pedestrian lanes.

The Pennies program will pay the $1.5 million set aside for Hubert Graham Way, but the City of Tega Cay will be in charge of the road's construction thanks to a deal between the city and the county. Additionally, the S.C. Department of Transportation has agreed to take over the $17.1 million Hwy. 21 bridge widening project, Leazer said.

Each of the Pennies programs was based on a long-range transportation plan, Leazer said. County officials are working on a new plan that will be the blueprint for the next Pennies referendum, probably in 2010. Planners will hold several community forums to seek input and identify priorities for the next Pennies program.

"If the new Pennies passes, you have to look for the next round of priority needs," Leazer said, highlighting the never-ending nature of accommodating growth in a county that leads the state in the percentage of population growth. "There's going to be more needs than money."

One area planners will need to be mindful of is mass transit. The Rock Hill Fort Mill Transportation Study Group identified Hwy. 21 as the most suitable mass transit corridor for York County. A bus rapid transit line is likely to take shape along the highway in the near future with the possibility of eventually converting the corridor to light rail.

Identifying the corridor was the first step, Leazer said. Now municipalities such as Rock Hill and Fort Mill, which are located along the corridor, need to start planning for higher density development along Hwy. 21 to support the mass transit network. Feeder bus lines will need to be established to bring people from population centers not located directly along Hwy. 21 to the bus line.

"South Carolina still has the third deadliest roads in the nation," Leazer said. "We can't wait on DOT to get enough money to fix them all, we need to find a way to continue the (Pennies) program and fix these roads."

Most of the major roads in Fort Mill are state or county maintained roads, over which the town has little to no control, town Planning Director Andy Merriman said. However, the town will be hiring a firm to provide it with a traffic impact analysis and suggestions on what measures it can take to mitigate congestion on roads it does not own that run through town.

"We want to ask them, what can we do as a local government, since they're not our roads," Merriman said.

Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk and Planning Commissioner Tom Petty will be meeting with Rock Hill and County officials Wednesday, Nov. 5, to begin "hammering out the details" on the bus line, Merriman said.

In Tega Cay, officials are looking for money in addition to the $1.5 million set aside for Hubert Graham Way by the Pennies program, and hope U.S. Rep. John Spratt (D-York) will be able to help, Operations Director Charlie Funderburk said.

The first leg of the road is already in place, built by Stonecrest developer Herman Stone. The next leg will take the road across Nivens Creek and to Gold Hill Road.

Most Roads in Tega Cay are owned by the city, but there is only one major road, Tega Cay Drive, and it is state owned. The city budgeted $20,000 this year for road maintenance, up from $7,000 last year. In previous years, however, the city typically budgeted $20,000 to $25,000 for road maintenance, Funderburk said.