York County is getting closer to submitting its plan for I-77 improvements, which could still grow.
County leaders are looking for about $140 million from the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank for interchange improvements. With matching funds, the total project will be almost $170 million. The York County Council heard an update March 7 on the application process, which has changed from initial discussions and could change again.
The initial plan was to look at interchanges at Carowinds Boulevard, Gold Hill Road and S.C. 160 in Fort Mill, and Celanese Road in Rock Hill. A consultant hired to help with the project brought back a recommendation that includes the Sutton Road interchange and one of three exits at Celanese.
Exit 82C is the worst issue for traffic, but some council members say exits A and B are not far behind it. They include traffic to Cherry Road and Riverwalk, among other Rock Hill endpoints. Chairman Britt Blackwell said issues at the two excluded exits of Celanese shouldn’t linger to allow Sutton Road in, and “common sense” points to including them.
“You’ve got 10 times the traffic problem as you do on Sutton Road – 10 times the traffic situation,” Blackwell said.
Yet traffic isn’t the top concern for determining which projects are included. Bill Shanahan, county manager, recalls conversations with infrastructure bank decision-makers on what an application should include.
“They said it’s new economic development,” Shanahan said.
The two additional Celenese Road exits could cost an additional $20 million, while the estimate for Sutton Road is less than $14 million. Then it comes down to economic growth potential. The consultant found land zoned for industrial and commercial use near Sutton gives it potential.
“It’s not about a traffic jam,” Shanahan said. “It’s about new jobs. So that’s what we base that on, new jobs.”
There may be a way to include both. The largest price tag comes at the Carowinds Boulevard interchange, at more than $98 million. That estimate is based on construction out to 10 years. If revised estimates base construction on a shorter time period, the savings could go toward including all three exits at Celanese.
That plan wouldn’t delay the application much.
“If we can shorten the time frame at Carowinds Boulevard, add the other two and only take a couple more weeks to get it down there, I’m all for it,” council member Robert Winkler said.
Council member Michael Johnson said shortening the time frame for construction could have benefits regardless of the money. By planning major roadways so far out, he said, the county risks finishing roads when they already would need to be expanded or replaced.
“It bothers me to think we’re about to spend $168 million and the roads will most likely be obsolete the day they open,” he said.
Whether to include all three exits at Celanese, more than traffic concerns, should depend on how that move affects the equation with potential new jobs, Johnson said. The larger goal is to make the application as strong as possible.
“What we need to do is focus on putting forth a plan that gets money,” Johnson said.
Current plans could change, but drawings now show diverging diamond formations at Gold Hill, S.C. 160 and Celanese. Two large roundabouts are shown on Sutton Road, though council members mentioned the possibility of changing that design.
I-77 improvements at a glance
The project involves five interchanges from exits 82C to 90. The state infrastructure bank is responsible for billions in road funding projects since it began almost two decades ago. Below are the latest estimates on what could be funded:
▪ Exit 90: Carowinds Boulevard
Total: $98.59 million
SCTIB amount: $88.91 million
Current jobs: 6,480
Projected new jobs: 5,656
▪ Exit 88: Gold Hill Road
Total: $12.68 million
SCTIB amount: $0 (Pennies for Progress funded)
Current jobs: 1,178
Projected new jobs: 17,793
▪ Exit 85: S.C. 160
Total: $24.65 million
SCTIB amount: $20.65 million
Current jobs: 7,280
Projected new jobs: 4,656
▪ Exit 83: Sutton Road
Total: $ 13.55 million
SCTIB amount: $13.55 million
Current jobs: 1,339
Projected new jobs: 9,474
▪ Exit 82C: Celanese Road
Total: $18.26 million
SCTIB amount: $15.26 million
Current jobs: 1,156
Projected new jobs: 3,184
$138.4 million from SCTIB