By John C. Stevenson
The chairman of the Spartanburg County Council envisions a future in which Spartanburg and Greenville become a joint force in driving Upstate growth and economic development.
Chairman Jeffrey Horton said he thinks that by working together, Greenville and Spartanburg counties can drive and shape growth in both counties.
“Greenville and Spartanburg are within a few years of really being merged together,” Horton said in a recent interview. “If you look at Highway 101/S.C. 14—that whole corridor between there and Greer—we’re slowly being joined at the hip with Greenville. Sometimes when I go from Greenville to Spartanburg, the roads get better going into Greenville, then sometimes the roads in Spartanburg are good to Greenville and the roads in Greenville are in bad shape.
“I would see if we could get both counties to coordinate to make sure that the roads that connect the counties, that we get them in the best shape possible between the two counties,” he added.
Horton also noted that improvements to Interstate 85 that are currently under way could spur growth between Spartanburg and its neighbor to the west, Cherokee County.
“I do see Cherokee County and Spartanburg County really having a lot of activity in that part of the county,” he said. “It would be prudent and wise to have all transportation from Spartanburg and from Cherokee County, to make sure the connector roads are adequate and in great shape as well, because I think that area will be the next to take off in a few years.”
Spartanburg County already has in place a tool for that kind of planning, Horton said: a long-range transportation plan developed in 2008 to identify transportation projects throughout the county. The LRTP is part of the Spartanburg Area Transportation Study, which is responsible for “planning and programming federal transportation funds to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods within and through the Spartanburg area while considering regional coordination for regional challenges,” according to the county website. The LRTP was updated in 2016.
Coordination between neighboring counties is only one of several concerns Horton said he has regarding transportation infrastructure in Spartanburg County and the Upstate as a whole. He bemoaned the General Assembly’s long delay in passing a gas-tax increase to pay for road maintenance around the state, and how the delay has effected the county’s roads.
The General Assembly in 2017 passed the state’s first gas-tax increase in 30 years. While the gas tax went into effect that year, other facets of the law will continue to be phased in through 2019.
“All of our major roads are in terrible shape,” he said. “I think the legislature acted way too late. I tow boats; I tow campers all over this state, and it is just unbelievable the amount of wear and tear that’s placed on vehicles on state highways. I can ride my boat on the most crowded lake in the state of South Carolina and it doesn’t take near the beating that it does getting it there by trailer.”
Most roads in the county seat of Spartanburg are in pretty good shape, according to Mayor Junie White, who did, however, note the importance of keeping ahead of the city’s growth.
“We’re going to have to stay on top of it and prepare for (growth), not wait until the last minute,” White said. “We’re going to have to keep everything up to date and the roads in good shape, and look at our transportation system and make sure we’re prepared.”
There are two public-transit systems within the county, according to Horton. The Spartanburg Area Regional Transit Authority operates a bus system within the city and to some areas immediately around the city limits, while the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System operates a fleet of 46 buses that provide curb-to-curb transportation for more than 800 clients daily, according to the Spartanburg Regional website.
“Our city buses are very important,” White said. “They reach out to other communities, and that’s basically the only way a lot of (people) have to get around. That’s funded now, but we’ve got (to continue) to have a good, active transportation system, because the more we grow, the more we’re going to need it. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to reach out to secure funds, you know—do our part, be aggressive about it.”
Powered vehicles aren’t the only option for Spartanburg residents seeking to get around. The county currently boasts 11 miles of urban walking trails, with plans in the works to construct another 21 miles, according to Laura Ringo, executive director of Partners for Active Living. She said the network of walking trails will eventually extend from the Pacolet River on the east to the North Tiger River on the west.
“Spartanburg’s got a lot of nodes of activity, and there’s an effort to connect all those pieces,” Ringo said. “I think that through a number of initiatives like the Way to Wellville there is a lot of energy behind creating healthier communities.”
Ringo also noted Spartanburg’s strong bicycling community, and the opportunity for all residents to use cycling for pleasure and transportation, especially in urban areas. She said there are currently five Spartanburg BCycle stations around the city that provide as many as 40 rental bikes for those who would rather see the city on two wheels than four.
Encouraging healthy activities such as walking, running, or cycling provides several benefits for the county and its residents, Ringo said.
“It encourages good health,” she said. “The more you can get out and be physically active, it helps to prevent chronic diseases like cancer and obesity and depression. It also helps with a vibrant economy: attracts tourists, creates jobs, invites millennials and young folks to enjoy the community. It also really builds the fabric of a community and helps tie together neighborhoods, unites people, unites the city and the county.”