River Watch Parkway extension concerns residents

Martinez resident Sonya Wheat knows that living next to a busy thoroughfare such as Old Petersburg Road can take some getting used to. Residing roughly 20 feet from a busy four-lane road, however, is a different story.

Wheat, like many others along Old Petersburg and Old Evans roads, is dealing with the reality of River Watch Parkway’s expansion from Baston Road to Washington Road at Towne Center Drive. That is, the road might be built a little too close for comfort.

“I knew that it was going to be close, but I didn’t realize that it was going to be this close,” said Wheat, who has lived on Old Petersburg Road for the past five years. “I think with the road being right here, it’s going to be dangerous.”

The extension, which will run through a large portion of Wheat’s yard, includes widening Old Petersburg and Old Evans roads to four lanes with medians, bike lanes and sidewalks. The improvements will begin just west of Baston Road to Old Peters­burg Road at Old Evans.

The widened road will continue along Old Evans, including a bridge over railroad tracks near Columbia Industrial Boulevard. The $34.2 million project will tie into Washington Road at Towne Center Drive and is expected to be finished in the spring of 2017.

The expansion concerns Becky Godbee, who has lived in the same home in the 4000 block of Old Petersburg Road for nearly 11 years.

She said she has spoken to three planning groups about the proposed route and was scratching her head when plans showed the right of way bumping up next to the concrete pathway that leads to her front steps.

“When we measured it out and parked our full-size pickup truck against the garage door, it hangs over,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s just not right. How can that be?’ ”

The proposed median would prevent Godbee and her husband from making a left turn from their driveway, she said. That is, if they can back out of the driveway in the first place.

Godbee said her husband’s truck needed the yard for the room to turn around. But with no front yard, she is left with more questions.

“How will we get out?” she said.

Department of Trans­por­ta­tion spokeswoman Cissy McNure, whose department has authority over the project, said it hasn’t received any complaints. Ron Cross, the Columbia County Commission chairman, said he also hasn’t heard complaints about the project, which received $20 million from the 1 percent transportation tax being collected in 13 area counties.

Cross said the extension will make Columbia County more convenient to the downtown area and make commuting easier for those working downtown or even at Savannah River Site.

“I really think the biggest thing is better traffic flow,” Cross said.

McNure said crews will begin work in the next few months on the new bridge over the railroad tracks and moving earth between the tracks and Washington Road.

Near the bridge’s site on Old Evans Road is Four Paws, an animal grooming and boarding business. Owners Marcia Acton and her daughter, Tarrah Bieranowski, have heralded the project as a positive one. Bieranowski said she has only one gripe.

“They’re not putting a turnaround in front of our business,” she said. “We’re making it pretty, but not functional.”

County officials expect that when the extension opens, it will relieve traffic headed east on Washington Road in Martinez toward Richmond County and on some of the heavily traveled north-south thoroughfares such as Hardy-McManus, Belair and Evans to Locks roads.

Combined with the widening of Washington Road to William Few Parkway, a voter-approved project on the 1-cent sales tax list, Cross said he hopes the extension will provide an easier commute for residents. It will be a four-lane road from the Riverwood area to Evans, where motorists can travel another four-lane road all the way downtown.

“That’ll be a big asset,” Cross said.

He said he expects the next three years of construction will be worth it in the end. “It’ll work out, and everybody will adjust,” Cross said.

Godbee, who has three young children, said that moving has crossed her mind but that she and her husband believe they would have a difficult time selling the property now.

“I think we’ll stick it out for a little while,” she said.

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