NORTH AUGUSTA - Although the South Carolina phase of the Bobby Jones Expressway has been slow in coming, the Palmetto State might be ready to take a small step toward keeping its commitment to extend the roadway at least as far as U.S. Highway 1.
A small but steady stream of area residents came to the North Augusta Community Center on Thursday for a preview of the South Carolina leg of the roadway.
The mandatory public hearing was held to get public input on the proposed extension of the expressway from Sand Bar Ferry Road in Georgia via a bridge over the Savannah River. This portion of the highway would end at U.S. Highway 1 just beyond the North Augusta Industrial Park.
This phase of the project involves acquisition of the right of way in about a 300-foot swath from the river to the highway. Two prongs of the roadway will intersect with the highway at points between Taylor Toyota and the site of the former Midway Par-3 golf course and driving range.
These two points of intersection are troublesome to Larry Murphy, who owns commercial property in the area.
"Ending the roadway here will add to the congestion of the area and require two additional traffic lights," Mr. Murphy said. With the current light at Revco Road leading to the industrial park, the flow of traffic could be considerably slowed, especially when commuter traffic is at a peak in the morning and afternoons.
Mr. Murphy, a former member of the Aiken County Council and the county planning commission, suggested that the construction phase include a proposed bridge across U.S. Highway 1.
Only $750,000 has been allocated for the acquisition of the right of way, according to Wrenn Barrett, project engineer for Department of Transportation District 1, which includes Aiken County.
He said the acquisition process should be completed by the end of 1998. He would not speculate on whether actual construction would begin before the end of this century.
The South Carolina part of the project has been long-delayed.
"I think we've been discussing it for the 23 years I have seen service, first on the Aiken County Planning Commission and on county council," Jim Baggott said.
"But it looks like we're finally going to get started if the infrastructure bill that the governor wants is passed," Mr. Baggott said. He estimated that it would cost about $30 million to complete this first phase of the roadway.
State Rep. Scott Beck, R-North Augusta, said the House completed action on the bill and the Senate is debating it. The bill would take an additional one cent of the current tax on gas and use it to fund various road and bridge projects that have been stalled, such as the Bobby Jones Expressway, for years.
"The bill we passed does not divert any money from funds used by county and city governments for repair," Mr. Beck said.
With passage of the bill, the "Bobby Jones Expressway in South Carolina has a better chance of moving now than it ever has," he said.
Although the expressway has been on hold in South Carolina, Georgia is within a quarter-mile of the Savannah River. With the construction of its part of the bridge across the Savannah, Georgia will have completed its commitment as South Carolina begins its first construction phase.
Eventually plans are to take the expressway to Ascauga Lake Road to the interchange with I-20. This future leg of the road concerns a group of homeowners in the Power House Road community, just outside North Augusta.
"I want to know the exact location of the expressway as it moves from Highway 1 to the interstate," John Lamback said. " I don't want them to put it so close to me that I can't rest."
His neighbor, Richard Jones, agrees.
"Right now my home is on a country lane that's going to become a six-lane highway," Mr. Jones said.
For the moment, however, the only part of the expressway in sight in South Carolina is the 1.5 mile four-lane highway from Sand Bar Ferry Road to U.S. Highway 1 and no one in authority would speculate when construction would actually begin.