By John C. Stevenson
Leaders in Cherokee County stress the need for better funding from the state as one of the poorest counties in the Upstate struggles to meet the needs of business, industry, and local residents.
For many travelers along Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Charlotte, the county seat of Gaffney is known for the Gaffney Outlet Mall, which beckons motorists to come in and shop for bargains, and for the Peachoid, the unique, peach-shaped water tower that has long garnered stares and comments from passers-by.
The good news in Cherokee County, according to County Councilman Mike Fowlkes, is that I-85 is receiving some much-needed attention as it is being widened throughout much of the county.
According to the South Carolina Department of Transportation, the I-85 project, which is still in its early stages, will widen the busy interstate from four to six lanes between mile markers 80 and 98. In addition, there will be interchange reconstruction for the exits at mile markers 83, 87, 95 and 96. The scope of the project also includes “rehabilitation” of several interchange ramps, and the construction of a new railroad overpass near mile marker 81. The construction began in 2017; completion is slated for 2021.
Both Fowlkes and Gaffney Mayor Henry L. Jolly said they anticipate funds from South Carolina’s recent gas-tax increase will help the city with infrastructure improvements.
“Most of our streets located within the corporate limits of the city of Gaffney are under the state highway system,” Jolly explained recently. “Thankfully, the General Assembly passed a gasoline tax that will hopefully correct infrastructure deficits.”
Jolly said the improvements to I-85 are also long overdue.
I-85 “has been woefully neglected by the state government and the federal government, in my opinion,” Jolly said. “Finally, they are doing something about widening I-85 through our county. Of course, we are grateful to have the interstate; we’re very fortunate to be situated—our county and our city—(on I-85). We consider the city to be the main (exit) off of the interstate in Cherokee County.”
In nearby Spartanburg County, County Council Chairman Jeffrey Horton said the I-85 improvements could help the two counties grow together.
“As soon as they get (the I-85/S.C. 110) intersection functional, then I see that part of (Spartanburg) County starting to really grow, and I think Cherokee County and Spartanburg County will begin to see a lot more development on our borders,” Horton said.
Fowlkes criticized state lawmakers for not looking after the needs of counties around the state.
“Just like it is in most parts of our state right now, we need our roads improved,” he said. “We have a number of state roads that are very degraded, so we need a big push for our infrastructure as far as our roads being repaired, and that’s kind of a common theme across the Upstate and South Carolina right now. We have a lot of state and rural roads that are in disrepair.”
In some instances, local bridges have been deemed unsafe and are awaiting attention, Fowlkes said.
“We have a number of bridges that have been closed, so we need some bridge replacement, also,” he said.
While counties including Cherokee continue to rely on state funds for infrastructure maintenance, Fowlkes said it has actually become more difficult to get money from Columbia.
“We need our state legislators to fully fund the local government fund,” he said. “They have been cutting back on the local government (funding) for eight to 10 years, and every county can speak to that.”
Another concern facing both Gaffney and Cherokee County is the lack of public transportation; however, Jolly said he doesn’t foresee much improvement coming anytime soon.
“I don’t know about public transportation,” he said. “We do have a pretty good taxi service, but beyond that, it’s hard for our poor people to get around. I would hope for (public transportation), but I don’t see it in our future.”
Jolly said that both county and city officials are “doing the best we can with what we have.”
“Hopefully, with the long, much-needed increase in taxes, we can improve our infrastructure,” he added.