After a 6-1 vote, a 45 mph speed limit throughout the corridor of the Hitchcock Parkway widening project was approved by Aiken City Council.


Council member Lessie Price motioned for a 45 mph limit throughout the entire corridor and to inform the Augusta Regional Transportation Study subcommittee about strong audience concerns expressed in current ideas of capacity.


Council invited the S.C. Department of Transportation on Monday to discuss whether a 45 mph limit or a 55 mph limit would better suit the bypass.


Kevin Gantt, project manager for SCDOT, showed a presentation of impacts of both speed limits to a standing room only audience. During the presentation, residents shouted out comments and questions, including how drastic will impacts be?


“There will be some impacts,” Gantt said. “I have to defer back to my opening comments. These are still conceptual drawing. We have to take in full, public comment before we go into the design concept. These are conceptual.”


Philip Merry, current member at-large of Council, asked about numbers thrown around in terms of cost, volume and retaining walls.


On the issue of cost feasibility, Gantt said the project could be separated into phases. SCDOT would just have to look at how all the money could be spent reworking the concept plans the right way.


Most of those in attendance were in opposition to the project, one advocating Mayor Fred Cavanaugh has a personal connection to widening the bypass. Vocal opposition advocate Bob Gilbert developed his own presentation and spoke about retaining walls, bypass capacity levels and City priorities.


“This has to do with situations in South Carolina, and certainly in Aiken County and the City, where roads and bridges are in poor condition,” Gilbert said. “I've heard this project will take four years. That's four years we're going to have a disaster on Hitchcock Parkway. That's 19 neighborhoods affected, five churches, a golf course, an elementary school and the crown jewel of Aiken, Hitchcock Woods.”


Aiken resident I. Lehr Brisbin, a senior research scientist emeritus in wildlife ecology with Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia, said Council should be looking at the impacts on wildlife accidents such as deer hitting vehicles.


“White tail deer kill more people in the United States than all other forms of all other wildlife combined,” Brisbin said. “It doesn't matter whether its 45 or 55 mph, if it's 45 and you're going five miles over, a collision can be lethal. So the issue is what do we do to reduce the probability of a deer to be struck by a car at 45 or 55?”


Randall Young, regional production engineer for the Midlands area, said with a vote tonight, SCDOT would hold a public information session during the first week of December to accumulate and listen to resident concerns.


The next City Council meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the Municipal Building, located at 214 Park Ave.


For more information, call 803-642-7654.


Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism from the University of North Carolina Asheville.