Whiskey Road project on books beyond 2029

STAFF PHOTO BY DAN BROWN One of the first improvements to be made along the Whiskey Road corridor is the addition of formal curbing and more defined storm water drainage ditches lining the road.

The facelift for one of Aiken’s busiest and most dangerous road corridors could extend well into the next decade, and beyond, if the subcommittee of the Augusta Regional Transportation Study is able to complete all of the improvements on its list.

During its Nov. 5 meeting, the subcommittee unanimously approved funding for the corridor study to move forward, and agreed to begin accepting bids in early 2016.

The Whiskey Road improvement project could span beyond 10 years, depending on the scope of the project and the funding.

“We joke a lot about it,” said Aiken County Council and subcommittee member Camille Furgiuele, who also proposed the corridor study. “I certainly won’t be around for the completion of the Whiskey Road project, but I certainly want to make sure we get it off the ground and going at the start of it.”

Whiskey Road’s construction isn’t expected to begin until sometime in 2019.

During the Nov. 5 meeting, Aiken City Council and subcommittee member Dick Dewar said Whiskey Road is the main artery heading into Aiken from the Southside, and there are many levels of improvement needed.

For Dewar, first and foremost is storm water drainage.

“We have to take care of the storm water drainage along Whiskey Road,” he said. “I don’t like it when they say Whiskey Road is going to turn out like Washington Road in Augusta. Sure, there are a lot of businesses on it, but we need to take care of the storm drainage issues first.”

The 12-mile corridor study between South Boundary Avenue south to U.S. 278 in New Ellenton will carry a $350,000 price tag, with $280,000 provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and $70,000, or 20 percent, falling to Aiken County as a local match.

The City of Aiken agreed to pitch in on the local match; however, Gerald Jefferson, of the Aiken County Planning and Development Department, said it is too early in the study to know how much, if any, the City would be required to pay.

“I know in past projects the City of Aiken pitched in to help with the local match, but at this time we don’t know how much that would be, or if the City would be required to pitch in at all,” Jefferson said.

Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said the County is exploring funding opportunities that include funds from the County Transportation Committee.

“It’s still very early in the project, and we’re exploring all funding opportunities, including the (County Transportation Committee),” he said.

The study project will open for bidding in January 2016 and remain open until March, with the study contract awarded in either late June or early July 2016.

The study is expected to take one year to complete, with an anticipated completion date of July 2017.

In the spring of 2018, Jefferson said the County hopes to draft a funding referendum to go on the November 2018 Capital Projects Sales Tax ballot for the project.

“The local option sales tax renews next in 2018, and this will give us time to get the funding referendum on the November 2018 ballot with construction hopefully beginning sometime in 2019,” he said.

In other business, the subcommittee heard updates on its five active roads projects from the S.C. Department of Transportation.

Improvement updates were provided on Silver Bluff Road, East Buena Vista/Atomic Road, Belvedere-Clearwater Road and Hitchcock Parkway.

With the Silver Bluff Corridor improvement, the project will begin accepting bids on Nov. 10, with an estimated completion date of fall 2017.

Three new traffic signals will be installed along Silver Bluff Road – one at the Richardson Lake-Village Green Boulevard intersection, Woodside Plantation Drive and Town Creek Road, as part of the project with “sharrows” installed throughout the entire corridor to accommodate bicycles.

A sharrow is a shared-lane marking, usually arrows, on the road to indicate shared lanes for bicycles. To accommodate bicycle traffic, the speed limit along Silver Bluff Road will be reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph.

Bidding for construction on the East Buena Vista/Atomic Road project will begin Nov. 10, with a projected construction completion date of the fall of 2017. All 54 right-of-way tracts have been cleared for letting – accepting a list of bids and bid amounts.

On the Belvedere-Clearwater Road widening project, the preliminary design process has been completed with the environmental documentation and permit coordination currently underway. A public hearing will be held sometime in December or January, pending approval of the environmental documentation.

Regarding the Hitchcock Parkway improvement project, the subcommittee anticipates SCDOT approval of a State Transportation Improvement Program at DOT’s Dec. 4 meeting. Safety improvements have been identified at three intersections along the corridor – US 1/SC 421, US 1/SC 118 and at the SC 118/SC 421 intersections.

A public information meeting is anticipated to be held sometime in late February or early March.

The subcommittee also approved a request by the Town of New Ellenton to amend the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan to include intersection improvements in the White Pond and Whiskey roads area. The project cost is an estimated $1 million.

The November meeting was also Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh’s final meeting as chairman of the ARTS subcommittee. Cavanaugh is stepping down as mayor effective Nov. 23. The subcommittee thanked Cavanaugh for his years of service and hard work.

“We’ve had some wonderful people to work with over the years,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m just one. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Dan Brown is the government reporter for the Aiken Standard.