By David Dykes
Anderson County is blossoming, but it still is tied to a regional transportation system that’s in need of attention–and plenty of money for repairs and updates.
“We are playing catch up,” says Tommy Dunn, chair of the Anderson County Council.
A key concern to Dunn is repaving many roads that have endured heavy use and the effects of recent harsh winters, leading to potholes and cracking.
Population and economic growth also offer challenges, as more people move into the county and take to local roads.
“We’re just now starting to see a little bit of light out of this recession we’ve had,” Dunn says.
The county’s economy has been bolstered by Michelin North America and Duke Energy, both of which have plants in the county.
Michelin will restart production at its mining tire plant in Starr later this year, says Eric Bruner, a company spokesman. The plant opened in 2013.
The global mining markets are recovering faster than industry expectations, as indicated by increasing mining activity and favorable inventories, Bruner says. Additional production capacity (Michelin operates another plant for earthmover tires in Lexington) is necessary to respond to these trends and to address customer demand for Michelin technologies, he says.
Former Michelin North America President Pete Selleck once said South Carolina’s roads were a “disgrace” and could threaten the company’s future expansion in the state.
Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed a comprehensive funding bill for road improvements in May 2017, but the state legislature voted shortly after to override his veto. Selleck retired from his role as chairman and president of Michelin North America a few months later.
The road-funding bill provides more than $630 million a year for road-improvement projects across the state (when fully implemented after year six), supported through the state gas tax.
“Though it took more than one attempt to reach a consensus solution, South Carolina drivers already can see the results of progress in certain locations, which will make all of us safer on the roads over the long term,” Bruner says.
Duke Energy in June celebrated the opening of the new 750-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant at the W.S. Lee Station in Anderson County. Duke closed two coal-fired units at the Lee Station in 2014 and converted a third coal unit to natural gas in 2015.
Along with road widening and realignment and intersection upgrades, a top priority in the Anderson Area Transportation Study, or ANATS, has been an extension of a multi-use path that runs along the East-West connector. The 10-foot-wide, paved bicycle-pedestrian path is similar to Greenville County’s Swamp Rabbit Trail.
In addition, 40 intersection improvements are planned over the next 20 years, subject to review.
“We focus on (traffic) flow and making our system more efficient instead of making it wider,” says Mike Gay, a city of Anderson transportation planner. “Just lights that are timed properly can make a world of difference.”
Lance Estep, a transportation planner with the Appalachian Council of Governments, says transportation funding in the region is complicated since four separate entities receive federal funds for roadway projects.
ACOG is responsible for the rural transportation planning process for the six-county region of the Upstate, including Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.
ACOG’s transportation improvement program for fiscal 2018-2023 includes several Anderson County roadway and intersection projects.
Priorities include realigning the intersection of S.C. 28 (Abbeville Highway) and S.C. 185. Others include realigning the intersections of Dalrymple and Scotts Bridge roads and Welpine Road and US 76, both described in ACOG documents as “dangerous” intersections.
Potential projects for future consideration include realigning the intersection of S.C. 247, Murphy Road/Shady Grove Church Road, also labeled “dangerous,” and resurfacing U.S. 76 from S.C. 252 to the Greenville County line and S.C. 243 from S.C. 24 to the Oconee County line.
Another Anderson County intersection project that has been a top priority for transportation planners has been U.S. 29 and Old Williamston Road (at the Jockey Lot).
SCDOT completed its initial planning and scoping of the project last year. It is scheduled for right-of-way acquisition this year and construction in 2019, Estep says.
“Most folks that go to the Jockey Lot on the weekends understand how dangerous that area can be, and I think SCDOT’s solution will make that intersection much safer and much more functional,” he says.
Funds for road improvements are allocated by the state Department of Transportation through the Guideshare Program. The S.C. Transportation Commission sets aside Federal Highway Administration and SCDOT funds each year and distributes the money among the state’s MPOs and Councils of Governments based on population and vehicle miles of travel in each region.