I-77 interchange improvements on tap for Fort Mill

A plan that includes $60 million in state money could mean improvements at the I-77 and Carowinds Boulevard intersection.

York County put a plan in front of the state transportation infrastructure bank for improvements at four I-77 interchanges. The infrastructure bank informed the county that the project has merit, leading to a formal proposal.

The $117 million plan would cover ongoing improvements at the Gold Hill Road, S.C. 160 and Celanese Road interchanges as well as new work at Carowinds. The infrastructure bank would pay $60 million, with $11.6 million coming from the next round of Pennies for Progress and $8.8 million from the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study.

Another $31 million would come from local matches.

RFATS, which has about $15 million in long range funding committed to each of the three existing projects, stands to save if the new plan moves forward.

“It provides a lot of financial breathing space for a lot of other projects in the county,” said David Hooper, RFATS director.

The infrastructure bank funds regional projects in the state. The plan would put $32.5 million toward Carowinds, $20 million to S.C. 160, $17.5 million to the diverging diamond at Gold Hill Road and $16 million to Celanese Road.

Partnering with Pennies

In February, the RFATS policy committee heard a proposal on how a Pennies for Progress partnership might help both groups. The idea being RFATS could allocate smaller amounts of money, quicker, for preliminary design work on large projects while Pennies took on construction costs for shovel ready projects every seven years.

I-77 interchange improvements at Gold Hill Road and Celanese Road, each in the RFATS long range plan at $15.5 million, were shown wrapping up three years sooner and at $24 million less for RFATS.

Since that initial discussion, RFATS spent time crunching numbers. Hooper said RFATS has $62 million committed to long range projects now and $47.3 million unprogrammed, or non-designated funds, to be spent by 2035.

An ongoing Pennies partnership would increase that $47.3 million in unprogrammed money to $72.3 million, Hooper said.

“It’s pretty notable,” he said.

The move also would be positive for Pennies. Former project engineer Phil Leazer, who recently resigned, said the partnership would mean Pennies gets a better take on actual construction costs with preliminary work already done. Pennies voters would see work on major projects much faster, he said.

“It won’t be something we put in seven years later,” Leazer told RFATS in February.

The move requires several long range plan updates from RFATS. The committee gave preliminary approval to one at the May 15 meeting, setting a 30-day public comment period before a final decision.

More bridge talk

An I-77 corridor review showed a list of needs along the interstate, but it was a failed former proposal that drew the most attention at the meeting. RFATS planners continued discussion on a bridge linking the Celanese Road area of Rock Hill to Sutton Road in Fort Mill.

“I wish I could say there’s a clear answer,” Hooper said.

The committee discussed a bridge in years past, but moved on from the idea in 2012 after estimates put it at $80 million or more. Yet, planners say, the Celanese and I-77 interchange is the most significant challenge among several in their area.

“To look at it all and not look at Celanese Road, I don’t think would be the thing to do,” said Doug Echols, Rock Hill mayor.

Echols believes something has to be done to relieve congestion at I-77 and Celanese. Another river crossing is one of the few ideas that would accomplish the goal, he said.

“The problem is just going to continue to grow,” he said.

Yet the path of the former bridge proposal is as problematic as the cost, said Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk. School and residential property are being developed or are planned for development on the Fort Mill side of the river.

“I thought we had interjected enough conditions that it was virtually impossible,” Funderburk said. “I just can’t see you doing it at Sutton Road.”

A study shows that a bridge from Celanese to Sutton Road would add 1,000 cars per day to Fort Mill Parkway. It would reduce traffic on Highway 21 by almost 9,000 vehicles, but increase it by about that same amount on Sutton.

RFATS member state Rep. Ralph Norman sees another issue with the high price tag. As a developer, he sees value for taxpayers in road improvements for areas where new business can locate. When road funds are tight, those areas may take priority compared to a high-cost bridge over the river.

“I can’t build any businesses on the water to recoup the tax dollars,” Norman said.

No decision was made on the bridge at the May 15 meeting.

John Marks •  803-547-2353