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Road study could bring needed improvements

Road planners want to know where you’re going.

Throw in where you’re coming from, how often you make the trip – anything that might help decide where to fix or lay roads to make those trips better.

State transportation departments in North and South Carolina are partnering with federally designated road planning areas throughout the Charlotte region on an external travel survey. The Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study is one of five designated areas participating.

“This survey is the last of several data collection efforts being completed in conjunction with the 2010 census,” said Anna Gallup, regional modeling manager with Charlotte Department of Transportation. “The information collected will be used to update and refine the region’s travel demand model.”

External surveys typically come in larger urban areas. The first in the 11-county Metrolina region was in 2000. Surveys look at highway and transit patterns. Roadways at or near boundaries, such as state or county lines, are of particular interest.

“An external travel survey typically collects both the number and characteristics of vehicles traveling into, out of and through the study area,” Gallup said. “The information collected will be used for the estimation and calibration of the region-wide travel demand model used to project future travel demand in the region.”

RFATS includes Fort Mill and Rock Hill, and also the Indian Land panhandle and the S.C. 49 corridor in Lake Wylie. Those latter areas were added due to population increases shown in the 2010 census.

David Hooper, RFATS coordinator, said studies like this usually involve a sampling of vehicular movement to get an “accurate reflection of operating conditions.” Planners are as interested in where traffic is starting and ending as they are in how packed it is on the highways.

“This information is one of many sources of operational data that is used to assess projected travel demand,” Hooper said. “Essentially, it is one of our sources of forecasting information that is used to identify project needs as well as assess the impact of potential project types.”

Those projects include road widening, intersection improvements, expanded transit and others. Along with Pennies for Progress, RFATS ranks among the largest road funding sources in York County each year.

The first phase of the study involved roadside surveys, where planners stopped vehicles at 18 locations along the region’s borders. Seven of those locations were in South Carolina. That data set is complete.

“For that phase of the survey, vehicles entering the region were stopped, and the survey was completed in-vehicle,” Gallup said.

The next and final phase should be complete by the end of March, then forwarded to the various planning groups. Certain homes will receive surveys by mail. There aren’t plans, Gallup said, to open the survey to everyone.

“We chose not to open it up to online surveys so as not to bias the nature of this particular survey,” she said. “What we are looking to obtain is a snapshot of current vehicles entering the region, focusing on their destination patterns.”

Larry Huntley, Fort Mill Town Councilman, attends RFATS meetings and is familiar with traffic issues in Fort Mill. Many of the problem areas in town are caused by traffic to and from neighboring municipalities, he said.

The Catawba River and local creeks, he said, almost require Fort Mill cut-throughs.

“There’s very few east-west corridors,” Huntley said. “It all has to go through Fort Mill.”

Lake Wylie sees similar patterns. Plans changed from a five-lane to three-lane design in places in the Pole Branch Road project approved by a 2011 Pennies for Progress vote, due to changes with the Garden Parkway in North Carolina. A decision there led to reduced traffic projections here, creating a significant change for the project.

While the survey could provide needed information, groups like RFATS already have long-range plans at or beyond capacity with needed projects. Even if a project makes a list, Huntley said, new construction or repairs can take years.

“There’s no such thing as a shovel-ready job,” he said.

Charlotte City Council approved implementing the study in January 2013, with $390,000 committed through both state departments of transportation and the federal designated area groups.