Originally created 12/08/96

Residents fight Aiken bypass



AIKEN - Dorothy Waymer says her one-story brick home with a swimming pool and picturesque view of rolling farmland is a childhood dream come true.

But for the past year, Ms. Waymer has been living a nightmare. She says the looming threat of a six-mile bypass, to be built 150 feet from her home on Wrights Mill Road, will eliminate her view and disrupt her tranquility.

"The bypass would take a lot from our area," said Ms. Waymer, assistant dean of continuing education at Aiken Technical College, who has lived in her home 10 years.

Two houses are also slated to be moved because of the $6 million South Carolina Highway 118 Bypass, slated for construction by the state Department of Transportation in 1999.

But a decision next month from a lawyer for the Federal Highway Administration could postpone or even eliminate the bypass altogether.

About 80 bypass opponents calling themselves Aiken Concerned Taxpayers Against the Bypass, mailed a letter of their intent to sue to the U.S. Department of Transportation in September.

The letter alleges that the state transportation department didn't take proper measures to assess the impact the bypass would have on people's lives and the environment. Many residents, like Ms. Waymer, argue the road would decrease their property values and ruin the beauty of their neighborhoods.

James Thomason, an attorney for the Federal Highway Administration, which approved the plans for the bypass, said that if the administration believes the group's allegations have merit, it will revisit the issue. He plans to respond next month to the letter, signed by James Chandler, the protest group's attorney from Georgetown.

"They've made serious allegations," Mr. Thomason said of the opponents. "I don't doubt their sincerity. I promised Mr. Chandler a thorough examination of the issues they raised and a response where appropriate."

The bypass will span from the intersection of S.C. Highway 118 and S.C. Highway 19 to the intersection of S.C. 118 and U.S. Highway 1. It'll go behind Crosland Park subdivision, cross Wire, Wrights Mill and Willow Run roads and then connect to U.S. Highway 78.

Mr. Chandler said the bypass impact study "didn't seem adequate."

"It appears to us that they didn't fully inform the public about the bypass, didn't involve the public in the process to the extent that regulations require and they didn't assess the environmental and human effects," Mr. Chandler said. "If a lawsuit is filed an issue will be `Did they adequately do their job?"'

Brian Keys, assistant project manager for the transportation department, says they did.

"On all federal aid projects, we have to investigate the environmental impacts of the projects," Mr. Keys said. He said a public hearing was held on the bypass in May 1994 to give the public a chance to respond, and the final environmental assessment of the bypass was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in July 1995.

For some bypass advocates, the road's impact on the Aiken community outweighs other factors.

"I hate to see people lose their homes," said Michael Anaclerio, a member of the Augusta Regional Transportation Study Subcommittee for South Carolina. "But the bypass will facilitate the movement of traffic in and around Aiken."

The ARTS subcommittee makes recommendations for road improvement projects in highly populated areas of Aiken County. The recommendations go the transportation study committee's Policy Committee, which makes the final decision. The subcommittee approved the bypass May 17, 1995.

Subcommittee Chairman Fred Cavanaugh shares Mr. Anaclerio's sentiments.

"I see it's going to negatively affect some people," he said. "However, you've got to look to the future and what's best for Aiken."

Nancy Wilds, an Aiken County resident leading the fight against the bypass, isn't convinced the bypass is best for Aiken. She says the transportation department should save money and widen the existing S.C. 118 route since they already own the land along that route.

Highway officials estimate that widening the existing road would cost $5.2 million, but add that the bypass would help traffic flow better around the city.

"They're ruining these homes to put in unnecessary roads," Ms. Wilds said. "They want to turn this into an ugly industrial town. It'll get rid of our equine and retirement (image) in exchange for diesel fuel and asphalt."

Aiken County Administrator Bill Shepherd agrees, adding that widening the existing S.C. 118 route would be far less disruptive.

"What we're talking about is the relocation of a lot of people versus widening an existing roadway," he said.

And the bypass also will cause property values to plummet, says David Stinson, a Realtor with Eulalie Salley and Co. Realtors.

Mr. Stinson estimates that some homes in Crosland Park will lose 25 to 30 percent of their value.

"They're going to ruin some people's homes," Mr. Stinson said.

Just ask Dianne Taylor. The bypass is supposed to cut through manicured farmland that has a pond and horses located in front of her home. That sort of view prompted her and Ms. Waymer to buy homes on Wrights Mill Road.

"I won't have that beautiful land (to look at), I'll have a five-lane monster," said Ms. Taylor, standing beside her blue van, which sports a "No New Bypass" bumper sticker. "Why not save the money, widen the road and not destroy people's homes?"