By John Jeter
The nation’s fourth-fastest growing city, Greenville faces growing pains in large part because of its growing popularity. Turns out that in terms of the nearly 6,000 miles of roads in much of the Upstate, popularity leads to more than just potholes.
“New and improved roads tend to draw additional growth, which creates additional traffic problems,” says Keith Brockington, transportation planning manager for Greenville County and the Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study.
GPATS allocates federal and state funds and generates plans for roads, mass transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects in its coverage area. GPATS’ 777 square miles, nearly three times the size of Charlotte’s footprint, include parts of Greenville, at 55 percent, with the rest in Pickens, Anderson, Laurens, and Spartanburg counties.
In June, GPATS released Horizon 2040, a long-range transportation plan. The 100-page blueprint lists 123 road and 137 corridor improvements in the GPATS area, with $290 million committed through the next two decades.
That spending projection doesn’t include the biggest, most visible project underway: the Gateway Project at I-85 and I-385.
The state Department of Transportation project, the second-largest in its history, began with a 2014 contract awarded to two out-of-state construction companies. While the initial amount was $230 million, Joel Smith, an SCDOT engineer, says the total is now “just under $240 million.”
“The majority of this increase was from an opportunity the SCDOT saw to include additional pavement rehabilitation on I-85, as well as replacing the I-385 bridges over Garlington Road,” he says. “The increases to the contract amount now will likely save the state millions of dollars in the long run, as well as future headaches to the traveling public.”
Those headaches should end winter 2019, officials say, citing weather delays, though declining to provide the original completion date.
The project additionally provides better traffic-signal synchronicity on Woodruff; 13 new bridges, additional lanes; and accommodations to add a fourth lane to I-85 for “improved operational efficiency and safety of the interchange to better accommodate existing and projected traffic volumes,” Smith says.
Southeastern Freight Lines, headquartered in Lexington, applauds the enhancements.
“The Gateway Project is going to be a nice improvement to our state’s infrastructure. As a South Carolina-based trucking company, we are pleased that the state is looking to make these types of enhancements,” says the company’s Senior Vice President Mike Heaton.
Next big project: Woodruff Road.
Interviewed at his County Square office, Brockington refers to the “Transportation Improvement Project” page on GPATS’ website. TIP shows intersection improvement already completed at Woodruff Road at Garlington Road/Miller Road.
Although Woodruff is a state road, Brockington calls the traffic-choked artery a GPATS priority—and a project already underway. Horizon 2040 says $8.5 million is earmarked to widen Woodruff to Roper Mountain Road.
Even adding a parallel road to Woodruff is in preliminary planning stages, with a public hearing slated for November, he says.
As for financing all this work, SCDOT’s Infrastructure Maintenance Trust Fund, as of April, lists 18 Greenville County pavement and safety projects totaling $18.8 million, second only to the $19 million committed to Lexington County.
In terms of a grand-grand total—a best-case-scenario amount the state and Greenville County would need for a thorough overhaul–Brockington says those figures would be hard to come by. That’s largely because, through the next two decades, repair costs will rise and more and more drivers keep driving here.
“Everyone who drives the roads knows the condition they’re in, and DOT will be the first to admit that it’s bad. Part of it, a large part of it, is that our ability to fund road improvements has not kept pace with inflation and has not kept pace with our growth.”
Besides, he says, echoing other public officials, “You can’t widen your way out of congestion. Really, what we need to focus on in the future is congestion, bottlenecks, and safety.”
Meanwhile, at an April meeting just around the corner from Brockington’s office, Greenville County Council’s Public Works and Infrastructure subcommittee unanimously approved a plan to improve 34.5 miles of 94 county roads. The “base pave estimate” for projects in FY2019-’20 total slightly more than $6 million.
Hesha Gamble, an engineer and division manager at the county’s Engineering and Maintenance office, told the panel some roads haven’t been widened or repaved in 18 years.
“You guys know we haven’t done anything in a while, and we have several areas in the county that are fast-growing, and as we start to look at these rights-of-way, they become very major issues.”