In a small back room in the Aiken County Council building, about 45 Aiken residents showed up on Wednesday to express disapproval of widening Hitchcock Parkway.
Aiken resident Bob Horning served as moderator during the meeting, presenting concerns he said most citizens have in opposition of widening the parkway, including traffic volume and safety concerns.
“I live closer to the parkway than most anyone around, and I am able to sit with a cup of coffee or wine in the evening and count cars,” Horning said. “I did that for four days. The four-day average came in at about 7,000 cars less than the 18,000-car estimate that we see in the newspaper.”
Horning said traffic volumes from 2010 to 2012 had gone down on the bypass.
The S.C. Department of Transportation projected road capacity going up. After the SCDOT projection, the City hired W.R. Toole of Augusta for about $95,000 who, according to City Manager Richard Pearce, was more conservative about its numbers, but also found volume to rise.
“If they (Augusta Regional Transportation Study) tell the highway department we want this changed to another plan from four or five lanes, we have to convince our politicians to tell the committee we want to change the way this program is set up,” Horning said.
Residents asked Horning what could be done to stop the parkway widening plans.
One resident said she was unsure but felt local government officials were influenced by the recent construction of Sam's Club.
During the meeting, total costs of the project ranged from $42 million and higher, but, Pearce said, without a concrete design and only a concept plan, it is hard to nail down a total amount currently.
So far the money designated for Hitchcock Parkway totals $26 million, Pearce said.
“There's a lot of floating numbers out here, and we're only in the conceptual stage at this point,” Pearce said. “No design work has been done for Hitchcock Parkway. They have only developed conceptual ideas of how it would look. There are differences in opinion of how it should look. Some are asphalt and concrete or that it look like a parkway. City Council's concern is that Hitchcock Parkway look like a parkway.”
There is $9 million from the state infrastructure bank, $13 million from the state transportation improvement program and $4 million from the one-cent Capital Sales Tax.
Pearce said he understands residents' frustration. He said the main issue individuals need to understand is the project is still in the conceptual stage.
“Public participation in this project is very important,” Pearce said. “And we continue to want to hear their input.”
Maayan Schechter is the city reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.