Residents opposed to the proposed Hitchcock Parkway widening are asking for a change in the purpose of the project.


During the Augusta Regional Transportation Study Policy Committee meeting held on Thursday afternoon, opponents said the project should focus on corridor and operation improvements rather than capacity.


The current proposal for this multimillion dollar project is to widen Hitchcock Parkway from Silver Bluff Road to Jefferson Davis Highway from two to four lanes to accommodate more traffic.


Resident Bob Gilbert, who stated these plans will transform Hitchcock Parkway into “a ghetto highway,” said that the public could offer SCDOT comments until it's “blue in the face” but that won't change the direction of the project. He said the committee has the power to redirect the project.


“Somebody has to initiate that very important switch,” said Jim Meggs, an attorney from Columbia, who was asked by some residents to attend the meeting. “Stop wasting time and causing ill will in the community, and get this project rerouted.”


Vice Chairman Lark Jones, who was sitting in for committee Chair Fred Cavanaugh, said that they'll need direction from Aiken City Council regarding the scope of the project, which is completely within the City limits.


Gilbert disappointedly pointed out that out of the eight local elected officials who serve on the committee, only two were present.


Other residents cited a Level of Service study from 2012, which featured Hitchcock Parkway, stating that its data didn't support the project's purpose.


SCDOT Program Manager Kevin Gantt said that the numbers reflected in that study does fluctuate, but a capacity project calls for an average of 16,000 daily trips along a road. He said Hitchcock Parkway has seen more than 17,000 vehicles daily on average since 2008.


Steve Wilson spoke in support of the project on behalf of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce in which he's the board chair. He said it will be essential in creating businesses and jobs.


SCDOT will hold a public information session on Dec. 5 at St. Paul Lutheran Church gym at 7 p.m. regarding this project.


City Manager Richard Pearce said comments from that meeting will offer important information to both SCDOT and City Council regarding the purpose of the project.


Amy Banton is the County reporter with the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010.