South Aiken High School had a full house Thursday night as a slew of residents who live along Hitchcock Parkway came to give feedback on its proposed widening.
This was the first public information meeting held by the S.C. Department of Transportation regarding the proposed project to widen approximately 4.8 miles of Hitchcock Parkway from Silver Bluff Road to Jefferson Davis Highway from two to four lanes with a center turn lane added as well.
Many residents at the meeting Thursday were against the proposal entirely.
“I'm not happy about it,” said resident Richard Wilson. “I'm not crazy about this widening because it will speed things up and there will potentially be more accidents than there are now.”
Nancy Elliott, Parkway South resident, said she opposes the widening for many reasons, showing her long comment sheet that read why. A decrease in real estate values, elevation in traffic noise, speeding and the look of the widened roadway were some of her concerns listed – and many were echoed by other concerned residents.
“I think it's a stupid idea,” Elliott said.
Many residents were asking why this project was being proposed.
One of the main purposes is to reduce congestion and to accommodate an increase of traffic on the road which is said to see 18,000 vehicles daily, according to SCDOT. Officials expect that number to rise to around 31,000 in 2031.
Bob Gilbert, who is against the proposal and has been quite vocal about it, said it just doesn't make sense. He cites a document from 2007 entitled the “Interstate 20/SRS Access Improvements Proposal,” which mentions the widening of Hitchcock Parkway among many other possible projects as efforts to improve the safety and road conditions for those living in the area, traveling I-20 or commuting to SRS as the community continues to grow in both population and business.
Gilbert said that, with a significant decline in the number of SRS employees over the last two decades, making any improvements based on that facility is nonsense.
The document Gilbert mentioned was composed for submission to S.C. State Transportation Infrastructure Bank for funding. In February, it voted to provide $9.5 million for the Hitchcock Parkway widening. Another $4 million will come from the one-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2010.
Some residents suggested adding a few turn lanes or traffic signals as a less-disruptive and less-expensive alternative, saying the widening project is just too much.
Not everyone at the meeting was there to share their distaste for the proposal. Some were simply there get information and learn about the project. David and Karen Erickson said it was too early in the process to really know how they felt about it. They did have some concerns about traffic noise but said the widening could potentially open the road up in areas that are considered congested.
“I can see some advantages and some disadvantages,” David Erickson said.
What residents saw Thursday night was only a concept, not a design, according to SCDOT program manager Kevin Gantt. He said nothing is concrete, and the main purpose of the meeting was to gather input that will help them shape the design itself.
“It was a good meeting – we got a lot of input from the public,” Gantt said, adding that he did hear from a few who were in favor of the proposal.
S.C Rep. Tom Young was at the meeting to hear about the project and listen to resident comments. He said the feedback was mixed – the two biggest concerns were right-of-way and whether the project was necessary.
“The City and the County have data that backs up their position that this is necessary,” Young said. “I mean, I am going to obviously listen to my constituents and go back and look at all the information. I am very interested in what the comments will say.”
Those who didn't make the meeting Thursday can still submit comments until Nov. 23. Comments can be mailed to Kevin Gantt at P.O. Box 191, Columbia, SC 29202-0191, faxed to 803-737-1510 or emailed to Ganttkl@SCDOT.org.
Material from the meeting can be viewed online at www.scdot.org/inside/public_hearings.aspx.