Originally created 02/26/97

Planners question toll for expressway



AIKEN - A proposed extension of the Bobby Jones Expressway won't pay for itself if it's a toll road on the South Carolina side, state Department of Transportation planners said Tuesday.

A study of the expected amount of traffic on the proposed roadway shows the state would have to charge 50 cents or more per automobile to pay for the $70 million project, said Bob Addy, DOT's chief of statewide planning.

However, charging that much would discourage people from using the extension, Mr. Addy said.

"The road wouldn't pay for itself. It wouldn't meet debt service" he said at a meeting of the Augusta Regional Transportation Study's South Carolina subcommittee.

The project, which has been pending since 1970, would add a four-lane, limited access road from the Doug Barnard Parkway just north of Bush Field to Interstate 20 at U.S. Highway 25.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has built Bobby Jones Expressway from Interstate 20 to within a quarter-mile of reaching the Savannah River and completing its commitment for the roadway, while the Palmetto State has put forward almost no money to that end.

The only access to the South Carolina side would be at U.S. Highway 1 near the North Augusta Industrial Park and U.S. Highway 25 near Ascauga Lake Road.

The project has not received overwhelming support from lawmakers in Columbia or Aiken County officials. But North Augusta leaders have said it's necessary to jump-start growth around the city and make its Revco Road industrial park more accessible.

Meanwhile, Gov. David Beasley proposed a month ago the state borrow $1.2 million to $1.5 billion during the next six to eight years to complete five major pending road projects, including the Bobby Jones extension.

The governor wants to pay the debt service on the bonds by using C fund money normally used on local projects across the state, a penny from the state gas tax, interest on the state Highway Fund and a portion of federal gas taxes.

C funds are a sticking point with many legislators who don't want that money taken away, even though its current funding formula makes it nearly impossible to get roads paved because it takes several years to generate funds for authorized projects.

Those funds are earmarked for smaller, local road projects, which provide lawmakers more political goodwill by being able to say they paved roads in their individual districts.

And ARTS committee members said using C funds is not an an option.

"These are not new roads," ARTS chairman Fred Cavanaugh said. "This is money for paving and maintaining roads. We've got to take care of what we have first."