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Rock Hill officials: New Catawba River bridge ‘off the table’

Traffic on Celanese Road in Rock Hill on Wednesday afternoon. Studies from the city’s planning department show the Celanese Road “travel shed,” which stretches from Interstate 77 to York and includes much of the western part of York County, will add an additional 23,000 cars to the road over the next 20 years, leaving the corridor 20 percent over capacity.
Traffic on Celanese Road in Rock Hill on Wednesday afternoon. Studies from the city’s planning department show the Celanese Road “travel shed,” which stretches from Interstate 77 to York and includes much of the western part of York County, will add an additional 23,000 cars to the road over the next 20 years, leaving the corridor 20 percent over capacity. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Proposals for a new bridge over the Catawba River have fallen down.

Rock Hill officials say the bridge, which was long planned to alleviate traffic congestion on Celanese Road, has stalled because of opposition from the area’s transportation study committee.

Now, they say, new restrictions on development and changes to area roadways might be necessary to limit the number of cars on the busy thoroughfare.

Rock Hill City Council members met Thursday to review traffic information for the Celanese corridor and consider what options the city can take – alone or with York County or other agencies – to bring traffic in the area under control.

Studies from the city’s planning department show the Celanese Road “travel shed,” which stretches from Interstate 77 to York and includes much of the western part of York County, will add an additional 23,000 cars to the road over the next 20 years, leaving the corridor 20 percent over capacity.

Rock Hill tried to revive plans earlier this year for a bridge linking Mount Gallant Road south of the river to Sutton Road on the Fort Mill side. But other members of the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study Committee opposed the bridge as too expensive, saying it likely would only shift traffic problems elsewhere in the county.

“The voting power is just not there to get that change through,” said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols. “Unfortunately, now we’ll have to put the biggest Band-Aid on the problem we can.”

The committee sets transportation priorities for eastern York County and the Lancaster panhandle. Its membership is set up to balance transportation priorities among different municipalities and levels of government. The mayors of Rock Hill, Tega Cay and Fort Mill are represented on the group’s policy committee, along with members of the York and Lancaster county councils and lawmakers representing urban areas.

Much of the development on the north side of Rock Hill in the last 10 years was approved with a vision of the bridge’s completion. Even with official approval and funding in place, city planning director Bill Meyer fears continued growth in the area means the “window is closing” on the bridge as a viable project.

“The time for this to get attention was realistically at the last (transportation study committee) meeting where it was discussed,” Meyer said. “Right now, I’m not optimistic.”

Meanwhile, the prospect of even more growth in the area has brought traffic to the forefront of the city’s planning needs. City leaders initially rejected a proposal to build more than 200 homes in the Lakewood Forest subdivision at Twin Lakes and Homestead roads, but later approved a more limited plan to move forward.

Meyer notes the Celanese travel shed includes 10 newly approved residential and commercial developments that will add more than 1,000 new travelers to the area within the city limits, and nearly 1,000 more from four expected developments outside the city.

By 2035, even with a new “divergent diamond” interchange design, Meyer expects I-77 will see more cars merging onto the northbound lane from Celanese during peak hours than all cars headed north from points farther south.

Several alternatives were floated on how to arrest such overwhelming growth. The city might see a freeze on rezonings and annexations (new developments, including in Lakewood Forest, often request annexation to gain access to city utilities) in the area to slow down development.

Meyer also suggested a “quota” for residential permits in the Celanese travel shed, modeled on a similar limitation the town of Mount Pleasant used before the housing market crashed in 2008. Mount Pleasant planners have given their Rock Hill counterparts tips on how not to implement such a plan.

“The way Mount Pleasant did it was very time-intensive,” Meyer said. “They did it quarterly, and every Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1, people ran in to get permits. People would file in the name of their cousin, because one person could only get so many permits.”

Roadways could see changes in the future as well. Rock Hill already plans new construction over the next few years on busy stretches like the intersection of Celanese and India Hook, where more turn lanes are planned, and the possibility of a flyover added for traffic between Celanese and Old York Road, where traffic merges onto Heckle Boulevard.

The consensus at Thursday’s meeting was that long-term planning will be key for future residents to have a well-connected road network to drive on.

“One thing I’ll give Rock Hill credit for, and something I think our friends on the other side of the river could learn from, is how the road transportation network was put in over the last 30 years, and how interwoven it is,” City Manager David Vehaun said. Traffic problems elsewhere are the result of “the sins of the last 30 or 40 years, not the last three or four, because they haven’t done the planning.”

As a next step, Echols would like the City Council and York County Council to develop a joint plan to control growth in the Celanese travel shed and action by the transportation study committee to explore ways to alleviate traffic patterns going forward.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062

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