Fort Mill Times

Rock Hill won’t get a bridge to Fort Mill. But ‘superstreets’ are still on the table.

Commuter on Interstate 77 from Sutton Road bridge.
Commuter on Interstate 77 from Sutton Road bridge. Herald file photo

Rock Hill won’t get its bridge to Fort Mill. The consolation prize may be “superstreets.”

The Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation on Friday approved funding a new study to tackle traffic congestion on I-77, without building a new bridge.

Building a third bridge crossing the Catawba River in York County has been discussed for years to relieve traffic pressure on Celanese Road.. Representatives north of the river often voice against it, while south of the river is for it. Many Fort Mill leaders have argued a bridge would move traffic to Sutton Road and tie up decades of federal transportation dollars better spent elsewhere.

Studying the need for a third bridge was voted down in previous years, but has come back up in discussion in recent months.

But on Friday, Rock Hill City Councilman Jim Reno proposed something different.

“Throwing the bridge out is a way, in my mind, that we can start making progress in that corridor,” he said.

The regional transportation group wants to study its I-77 interchanges and connections in Fort Mill and Rock Hill, including Gold Hill Road, U.S. 21 and Pleasant Road in Fort Mill, along with Celanese in Rock Hill. The study would cost up to $200,000 and take eight months. But the group has about $60,000 available on an existing on-call contract or planning that could start now without having to bid out a new contract.

Reno pitched taking that $60,000 and putting it toward improving the Celanese corridor, which includes Cherry and Cel-River roads. Projects north of the river could have a separate plan that could be bid out later. That process, he said, is likely to take four months.

Fort Mill and Tega Cay representatives initially weren’t keen on allocating immediate money to Rock Hill. There are 16 road sections identified in the larger study option. Only three — the ones now set to get the first funding — were in Rock Hill. Doug Echols, in his last RFATS meeting after two decades serving as Rock Hill mayor, said Celanese should be the top priority because it suffers from the most congestion.

“Unless they’ve changed lately,” he said of traffic counts, “Celanese has the highest traffic volume. If you’re going to make decisions based on data, make decisions based on data.”

Counterparts saw it differently. Fort Mill Mayor Guynn Savage said even if Celanese has the highest counts, three roads there aren’t likely to have as many cars as the 13 remaining roads north of the river.

“You’re going to find some equitable traffic counts,” she said.

Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard, also in his last RFATS meeting and the only vote against studying the Rock Hill roads first, said he didn’t have enough information. He heard someone reference traffic count data from 2014.

“Kingsley wasn’t built in 2014,” he said, referencing the Fort Mill development set to be so massive by its completion, there has been talk among RFATS leaders about needing a new I-77 interchange.

The motion to move forward on the Rock Hill roads comes with the understanding the remaining roads would be studied when funding is available in four months.

“It does take the bridge off the table,” Savage said.

RFATS director David Hooper said the area has a problem in the way almost all roads funnel to I-77.

“There’s no one project that’s going to fundamentally change that,” he said.

With rapid growth in communities from Fort Mill to Tega Cay to Indian Land to Lake Wylie to Rock Hill, simply widening roads isn’t going to get the job done.

“Traditional improvement strategies are proving less and less effective,” Hooper said.

The new study will look at widening roads, traffic signal timing and flyovers, and a less common approach called “superstreets.”

“You’re basically removing the left turn option,” Hooper said. “This would obviously be very new to us.”

Indian Land has the first one in the state planned at U.S. 521 and MacMillan. A superstreet is similar to the diverging diamond pattern at an interstate exit — also a new approach being built at I-77 and Gold Hill Road — except for arterial roads. Left turns become a right turn followed by a U-turn, rather than a left. They can generate 20 percent more capacity, but also be more expensive than traditional intersections.

Other options include cameras at intersections to switch lights based on traffic volume at the moment, so cars at rush hour keep moving along the heaviest used routes.

“You’d like signals to be able to reflect that,” Hooper said.

The study could find other options, too. Then RFATS, along with other possible sources such as Pennies for Progress, will figure out how to fund future improvements.

While jump-starting the Rock Hill projects took convincing for policy committee members Friday, Savage said the idea is to find regional solutions for regional problems. I-77 certainly creates a regional issue, she said.

“We all serve the people that need to use it,” she said.