While some areas of York County have benefited tremendously from "Pennies For Progress" (the area around Rock Hill's Northwestern High School comes to mind, western York County has been shortchanged by the county's over-budget, behind-schedule "Pennies For Progress" road program.
As part of the 1997 1-cent highway improvement program, York's S.C. 5 Bypass was listed for widening to five lanes. The critical need was obvious more than a decade ago, and it has gotten more obvious since the voters approved the list of projects.
Since 1997, 200 traffic accidents and 10 fatalities have occurred on this two-lane road. The S.C. 5 Bypass is dangerous and will become even more dangerous as our community's new York Comprehensive High School is constructed. Parents, teachers, students, school buses and the usual daily congestion will imperil everyone who travels that road.
The latest schedule provided to the York City Council by York County reveals that design of the bypass is not complete and only 15 percent of the necessary rights of way have been secured. Our project will be completed pending "available funding," we are told. Surely, if a business or family conducted itself so unreliably, it would be the talk of the town. And the Pennies For Progress mess has, indeed, become the talk of western York County.
The county's 2007 announcement that Pennies For Progress had amassed a staggering $23 million dollar shortfall should embarrass everyone associated with the program -- especially the County Council, which has a fundamental responsibility to oversee projects such as Pennies For Progress.
An ocean of red ink should have been noticed earlier. Where has been the accountability? Blaming high oil prices and the accelerating cost of construction does not obscure the fact that money collected for York's bypass has not been spent for its stated purpose. Note that the money for our road has run out on two occasions (2004 and now), not just once. Is no one paying attention to Pennies For Progress?
In anticipation of the widened roadway, the York City Council paid for 5.3 miles of new water lines around the bypass in 2003. This infrastructure improvement was designed to help fuel economic growth throughout western York County. No one in York County government warned us about a potential problem with widening the bypass; no one mentioned anything about "available funding."
The new high school
The local school district, which serves students from throughout western York County, earned voters' approval in 2007 for a new high school and technology center, scheduled to open on the bypass in 2010. They, like us, expected York County to honor its word. And, yet, no bypass widening, not a bit, has begun. All that marks the site is a faded blue sign, promising a "future" widening.
It is an understatement to say the people of western York County feel short-changed. The Pennies For Progress endeavor has not fulfilled its 1997 commitment to western York County. We appreciate the dirt roads that have been paved, but, in 1997, everyone accepted the importance of widening the bypass. And, now, we hear that the Nimitz Loop, another Pennies For Progress project, may have to be scaled back.
There is an old saying among the farmers of western York County: "Always get what you pay for." We were promised in 1997 a widened S.C. 5 Bypass. We deserve what we paid for -- even if York County government has to dig into its general fund to complete the job.
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