Hitchcock Parkway widening plans criticized, commended

  • Posted: Friday, December 6, 2013 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, December 6, 2013 8:44 p.m.
Staff photo by Maayan Schechter
From left Aiken City Council member Dick Dewar and Council memeber Reggie Ebner take a look over S.C. Department of Transportation conceptual design plans for the widening of Hitchcock Parkway Thursday night at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Staff photo by Maayan Schechter From left Aiken City Council member Dick Dewar and Council memeber Reggie Ebner take a look over S.C. Department of Transportation conceptual design plans for the widening of Hitchcock Parkway Thursday night at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Price remains a sticking point with critics of plans to widen Hitchcock Parkway, but supporters got their say, too, at an information session on the project on Thursday.

Area residents peered over conceptual design presentations, tracing their finger over the gold line, rather than the yellow line, to figure where the new right-of-way would be. Representatives of both S.C. Department of Transportation and its consultant firm answered questions and took down comments, but mostly listened as residents pointed out their many concerns at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

A concern remains over the price tag of the project, which Pixie Baxter said was one of her main issues with the widening plans.

“I think it will devastate the downtown business,” Baxter said. “I think the price we're being quoted is way understated given the obstacles of building this particular corridor. For me, though, it's the aesthetic and ambience that is Aiken.”

Resident John Kirkman said the City could easily kill a $40 million project that would take four years to construct in a simpler fashion.

“They could get the traffic lights timed correctly, add turn-off lanes and sure, add a light at places like Dibble Road,” Kirkman said. “This is just bad business and total overkill.”

Current conceptual plans show SCDOT has narrowed the width of the 5- to 6-mile route, added in separate multi-use paths with sidewalks and 14-foot shared use-lanes, a center median with a reduced width, retaining walls in certain areas, and reduced the right-of-way impact area by 19 acres or 47 percent.

Aiken City Council also voted to keep the speed limit at 45 mph throughout the entire corridor.

On Thursday, several people also noted that EMS and law enforcement have difficulty traveling the bypass when there is an emergency.

“There are a lot of areas on Hitchcock Parkway where there is no shoulder or median for vehicles to pull over so emergency personnel can get through,” James Reed, vice president of business development with Palmetto Ambulance Service, said. “If widened, it would help us a lot.”

Neil Coastworth, who has been an EMT for about 18 years, said drivers moving over when ambulances or emergency personnel drive by is a huge problem and can be dangerous.

“They never do and sometimes they can't and then we can't get through,” Coatsworth said. “You would think you would hear it or see us from blocks away but you can't and then you're right on top of someone and you don't know if they will go right or left.”

The opinions heard overwhelmingly on Thursday were in opposition to the project. Asked why those in favor of widening appear not to be as vocal as those who opposition, resident Janice Hoffman said perhaps it's that many residents thought the issue was in the bag.

“I think many thought this would just automatically go through,” Hoffman said. “I can't speak for everyone, but personally it seems that is why the numbers have been so low.”

Anyone who wishes to file a comment on the project has until Dec. 20 to do so.

“The goal is for City Council to summarize and look over the information,” Kevin Gantt, program manager with SCDOT, said. “They will vote for or against and if they feel the comments are too excessive. They will give us (SCDOT) direction on what to do.”

To submit comments, email GanttKL@scdot.org or fax to 803-737-1510 (Attn: Kevin Gantt).

Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard.

An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.

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