By Richard Breen
The business lifeblood of Abbeville County surges through an artery that’s 25 miles long and four lanes wide.
“It’s very, very vital,” Abbeville Mayor S. Delano Freeman says. “Highway 72 is a major thoroughfare.”
In a global marketplace, economic development depends on infrastructure—highways, rail lines, ports, and airports.
“Transportation and access to markets and sites is always at the top of the list,” says John Lummus, president and chief executive of the Upstate Alliance economic development organization.
Stephen Taylor, development services director with the Abbeville County Economic Development Board, says that specific needs of individual clients vary, but logistics “is always a concern.”
“They usually want to know travel times to certain locations,” Taylor says. “International airports, interstates, ports, etc.”
Given the rural nature of Abbeville, Highway 72 is pivotal for moving goods and people.
“Usually on a site visit the first thing I utilize is a large map to orient the client on where we are located and outline our four-lane accessibility to major interstates and metropolitan areas,” Taylor says. “We have four-lane access to I-85 and I-26, in which both are around an hour’s drive.”
Highway 72 runs through Greenwood. Continuing on 72 takes drivers to I-26, while turning onto U.S. Highway 25 North in Greenwood will connect drivers to I-85.
With approximately 25,000 residents, Abbeville is the tenth smallest of South Carolina’s 47 counties. Along with Highway 72, the other major road is U.S. Highway 178, which slices through the northeast corner of the county on its way from Anderson to Greenwood.
“For their population base, Abbeville has a good transportation network throughout the county,” Lummus says.
Four of the six industrial sites recently listed on the county economic development website have access to Highway 72 near Calhoun Falls. Lakelands Commerce Center, where the county developed a spec building and a business incubator, is just east of Abbeville and a half mile from Highway 72.
“They have pretty good access to their sites and buildings, including rail access,” Lummus says. “They have several industrial parks, and they’re very close to the four-lane highway.”
That four-lane highway actually starts in Rock Hill and runs to Athens, Ga. The east-west-running Highway 72 is part of the National Highway System, which the U.S. Department of Transportation describes on its website as a network of roadways “important to the nation’s economy, defense, and mobility.”
“It connects us to Greenwood and Clinton, as well as to Athens,” Freeman says. “It’s almost like a back road from Charlotte to Atlanta.”
There’s still some work to be done on what is known as State Route 72 in the Peach State.
“I think it would be beneficial if Georgia would complete their four-lane accessibility to Athens, connecting to I-85,” Taylor says.
Making Route 72 four lanes from the state line to Athens is part of the Governor’s Road Improvement Program and is estimated to cost nearly $83 million. In April, work was completed on the four-laning of Route 72 between Elberton and Athens. Four-laning from Elberton to the state line has not begun.
Once in Athens, drivers can take U.S. Highway 129 to get to I-85. A widening project scheduled to be completed in 2020 will make that section of U.S. 129 four lanes.
Another road-widening idea comes from Mayor Freeman.
“I’d like to see us get a direct path to an interstate, or possibly widen Highway 28,” he says. “A lot of people use that as a thoroughfare to Anderson and Augusta.”
Heading north on S.C. Highway 28 connects drivers to U.S. Highways 76 and 178, a couple miles short of I-85. Widening it would provide an alternative to U.S. 25, which goes to Greenville. Heading south on Highway 28 takes drivers across the Savannah River and into Georgia, where it connects to Interstate 20.
There are approximately 655 miles of state-maintained roads in Abbeville County.
“There’s going to be numerous resurfacing projects,” says Michael Jones, resident maintenance engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation. A look at SCDOT’s 10-year plan also lists around a dozen projects in Abbeville County involving improvements to secondary roads where they pass over creeks or rivers.
Given Abbeville’s population, there is no public transit service.
“Governmental transportation would be hard to support with the number of users,” Freeman says.
There has been talk around the county about a shuttle service. It could run at specific times and connect to nearby colleges, transit systems in neighboring cities, or major employers.