By David Dykes
As you drive through Pickens County, you might mutter under your breath about potholes, seemingly unsynchronized traffic lights and road congestion.
Infrastructure improvements, including road and sewer work, are long overdue, says former Republican State Sen. Larry Martin, who worked for Alice Manufacturing for nearly 37 years and was scheduled to retire in June. The textile company’s corporate headquarters and manufacturing operations have been based in Easley.
SC Hwy. 183 and U.S. 123, two main east-west arteries in the county, are regularly congested. No interstate highway runs through the county and other roads are inadequate, Martin says.
“We’ve got an excellent county school system,” he says. “We’re a little bit off the beaten path in terms still as it relates to large developments. You can live more remotely in Pickens County and still not have to drive very far. That appeals to a lot of folks in terms of quality of life.”
In addition, a mix of businesses and industries are located in the county, Martin says.
Alice Manufacturing has said it will close its 300,000-square-foot Ellison Plant in Easley, but Martin believes that will create an opportunity for a new venture with good jobs – possibly a data center – to replace it. Much will depend on a good transportation system, he says.
“We’ve got a lot going for us, but we’ve got a lot of challenges,” Martin says.
Completing work on S.C. 153, a major connection between U.S. 123 and Interstate 85, will be a huge benefit, he says.
Martin is former vice chair of the Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study (GPATS), the metropolitan planning organization for the Greenville urbanized Area. MPOs were created in the 1960s and required for any Census-defined urbanized area with a population of 50,000 or more. MPOs were created to ensure transportation planning is carried out on a regional scale to allocate federal and other transportation funding efficiently.
GPATS is a separate entity from the South Carolina Department of Transportation, which maintains and manages a large percentage of the roads within the state. Additionally, many of the municipalities and counties within GPATS manage their own transportation projects within their boundaries.
SCDOT, for example, plans to replace the S-267 (Belle Shoals Road) bridge over Twelve Mile Creek in rural Pickens County.
In addition, the SCDOT has proposed intersection improvements to S.C. 183 (Farrs Bridge Road) at S-95 (Jameson Road) in Pickens County. The proposed intersection converts the existing two-way stop control intersection to a modern roundabout to improve safety and operation with minimal right-of-way impacts.
One important document guiding GPATS is a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Every MPO is required to have a LRTP that is reviewed and updated over time. GPATS reviews the LRTP every five years and updates it every 10.
Horizon 2040 is the first major update to the region’s LRTP since 2007.
Of the more than 100 intersection projects on the Horizon 2040 list, turn lanes and safety improvements for Calhoun Memorial Highway and Pilgrim Drive/Dogwood Lane in Easley and safety realignments for Farrs Bridge Road and Dacusville Highway in Pickens County are included.
To update the region’s transportation plan, residents in the Greenville-Pickens area were asked during the winter of 2016 about travel modes.
The survey showed one of every four respondents indicated the transportation system in the region had improved. Nearly one of every three thought it was about the same. Twenty-six percent indicated it was worse. One in five wasn’t sure, according to the survey by ETC Institute of Olathe, Kan.
Respondents indicated they would like to see improvement in the condition of existing roads, highways, interstates, and bridges in the region above all else. Nearly two of every three indicated they want to see existing roads repaved.
In addition, 46 percent indicated the region should consider making it easier to travel between home and work, and 70 percent believed improving local roads would lead to the most positive impact on the region’s economy.
While a strong number—51 percent—said they would like to see some form of rapid transit, ETC officials said “much more” insight was needed for any major decisions.
Martin says solutions to the county’s – and region’s – transportation improvements rest largely with funding, even with increases in the state’s gas tax, among the nation’s lowest.
The costs for asphalt, concrete, labor and equipment have gone up in the face of static revenue, he says.
“My contention is, while nobody wants to hear it, it’s still going to take a lot of money to fix our roads,” Martin says.