Two projects garnering controversy during the Augusta Regional Transportation Study Policy Committee meeting on Thursday were met with different fates, as a plan to widen Hitchcock Parkway was delayed and a proposed Silver Bluff Road project was moved forward.
The vast majority of the crowd focused on urging the committee to reshape or even drop the proposal to expand Hitchcock Parkway, many stating the widening would do much more harm than good.
The proposal is to widen 4.8 miles of Hitchcock Parkway from Silver Bluff Road to Jefferson Davis Highway from two to four lanes to accommodate more traffic.
The project is about three decades in the making and is being designed by the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Several residents during Thursday's meeting repeated sentiments expressed at earlier public hearings, particularly concerns over cost and the actual need to implement the proposed changes.
Aiken resident Bob Gilbert described the project as “irresponsible” and said the idea of accommodating the road for more traffic was a “theory trumping reality.”
Mike Rubin, who owns property near the proposed changes, received applause from the approximately 65-person crowd after he told the committee it should focus on low-cost improvements instead of advancing the nearly $26.5 million project.
After hearing the backlash, ARTS Committee Chair Fred Cavanaugh, who also serves as Aiken mayor, stated that he would like to see members of Aiken City Council and Aiken County Council examine the Hitchcock Parkway issue and provide a specific directive to the committee.
The committee plans to reconvene for its regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 1.
The decision to move the project forward must be approved by the committee, according to committee member and Aiken City Manager Richard Pierce.
He explained that an alternative plan is currently being developed by an engineering firm contracted by the City and he hoped a presentation could be made to the public soon concerning the other proposal.
However, it was noted that the alternative plan would likely also be capacity driven and involve four lanes, the same way the current SCDOT plan is designed.
SCDOT Project Manager Kevin Gantt said the project would help ease traffic flow through the parkway, which is expected to continually increase in the future.
Approximately 18,000 vehicles travel down Hitchcock Parkway daily, he said. The road is built for 16,000 vehicles a day, and it's projected that in less than two decades, that number will increase to about 28,000.
In other business, the committee decided to advance proposed corridor improvements to Silver Bluff Road on a 5-2 vote and agreed to increase the total budget for the project from $528,000 to $1.5 million.
Cavanaugh said the budget increased because SCDOT provided a new estimate after completing a full plan for construction.
Committee members C.H. Williams, mayor of Burnettown, and Noelle Shealy, a Burnettown town councilwoman, voted against the proposal.
The two committee members expressed concerns over the proposal because they felt that by increasing the budget and moving the proposal forward, it would delay the completion of another project, the widening of S.C. 126, a plan that would impact Burnettown.
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