Recent articles have noted opposition to the Hitchcock Bypass widening project, so I realize I may be wandering into heavy traffic as I write in support of improvements to this major connector road. The Aiken Bypass has always been underrated, and when it was first proposed by visionary developer, Bob Penland, it was ridiculed as something no one would ever use.
Fifty years later, it’s the main route for anyone from the Southside traveling west to Sage Mill Industrial Park or from Augusta to South Aiken. With Hitchcock Woods and Houndslake Golf Club to the south, there’s only one route for commuters who are traveling in those directions.
Traffic counts have increased steadily with the current vehicle count at around 18,000 per day. Since 16,000 is the threshold for four lanes, much of the funding has been approved for adding two more lanes. Because of the impact of the widening on properties on the east end of the Bypass, there’s been considerable outcry about the project, with some suggesting that it be shelved. I believe rejecting funds for improvements would be irresponsible.
Most of the engineering studies have taken a monolithic approach to moving 18,000 plus vehicles from one side of town to the other. These have not considered that the bypass is very different traveling east to west. Properties along the right of way, intersecting streets, drastic grade changes and different speed limits give the east section a more suburban character, while the west end begins to be more rural. Because of the slower speed limit and intersecting streets, traffic flows more slowly on the eastern end, but it moves at a steady pace with most vehicles traveling at similar speeds.
As the speed limit increases toward the west, vehicles travel at more varying speeds and traffic gets backed up at times. There are dangerous stretches of highway where hills or curves make passing difficult, and three lanes would not improve the situation.
One solution to remedy the immediate problem of lines of vehicles stacked behind a slower truck or car and the danger inherent in trying to pass, would be to break the project into at least two phases.
The design of the west end of the bypass, with its higher speed limit and more limited access, might well be a four lane divided parkway. Less drastic grade changes and available right of way should allow this section to have improvements proceed according to schedule, perhaps sooner.
The more difficult sections to the east could then be moved into a second or third phase, giving designers time to analyze alternative approaches on the eastern end, whether it be with retaining walls, elevated roadway or varying median widths. This would allow current funding to be utilized now to eliminate the most dangerous stretches of highway while giving a needed boost to the economy.