Originally created 03/02/98

Expressway concerns

W.O. Bradley has been wondering when he'll see some construction for years.

His small convenience store and gas station, at the corner of Edgefield and Ascauga Lake roads, may be in the proposed path of an expressway that, when complete, will loop around the metro Augusta area.

But Mr. Bradley isn't excited about that.

If the expressway is built according to plans in an environmental impact study conducted during the 1980s, Mr. Bradley said, he may have to sell his Country Convenience Store to the state.

"They're going to take my livelihood," he said.

But years of talk and debate about extending the Bobby Jones Expressway, also known as Interstate 520, into South Carolina has convinced Mr. Bradley that many more years will pass before the loop is completed.

"I'll be dead and gone when that thing comes through here," he said.

The history of the proposed 7.2-mile extension dates back to the 1970s.

The $120-million extension eventually will cross the Savannah River, cut through part of North Augusta and reconnect with Interstate 20 near exit 5. It will loop around the metro Augusta area, creating a beltway similar to those that exist in other cities, such as Macon, Athens and Atlanta.

The extension was approved by the federal government as an interstate in 1984, according to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. But since then, the roadway has existed only on maps.

The South Carolina transportation department currently has budgeted $880,000 to acquire 16 tracts of property between the Savannah River and U.S. Highway 1, according to project engineer Brian Keys.

But it doesn't, however, have the money or a timetable to begin building.

The South Carolina transportation department does not know exactly where the stretch of roadway between U.S. 1 and Interstate 20 will go, because the engineering work hasn't been completed, Mr. Keys says.

Experts disagree about the importance of the expressway to the area.

Legislators say it will spur development projects. Much of the area where the extension is slated to go is undeveloped. As a model, they point to what the Bobby Jones Expressway did for Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Transportation awarded a $22.28 million contract for widening and resurfacing the expressway in November. The state contract calls for 6.12 miles of widening from the Columbia County line to Deans Bridge Road. Work crews will add two lanes, resurface the roadway, raise six bridges, widen two other bridges and extend a bridge culvert. The work is scheduled to be completed by July 2000.

Those critical of the importance of the expressway extension into South Carolina say, however, that the new road is too close to subdivisions to open new areas to manufacturing and will make it easier for South Carolinians to go across the river to shop.

Residents living near the proposed expressway site have mixed feelings about the plan too. Some welcome the new roadway saying it will give them a quicker way to get to South Augusta and Bush Field airport. But others, fear the expressway will drive down property values.

Gary Toole, who moved into a house on Cheyenne Circle with his family six months ago, says he did not know that an expressway might be built close to his home. He moved there because it was in a quiet neighborhood and is concerned that an expressway may change that.

"I imagine it might become noisy," Mr. Toole says.

But other residents, Jerry and Lorraine Mabrey, are more optimistic about the expressway, "providing it's not too close," they say. The expressway will give them a convenient route to south Augusta.

The couple has lived on Cheyenne Circle for more than 20 years.

Every few years, they said, they hear new rumors about the expressway. When it's coming, they said, is anyone's guess.

"I'm afraid me and my wife won't get to see it," Mr. Mabrey said.

But North Augusta Police Chief Lee Wetherington, who stops at Mr. Bradley's convenience store for fresh coffee every day, sees both sides of the expressway debate.

It could relieve traffic congestion through downtown North Augusta and give workers headed to south Richmond County a better route, he said.

But if the expressway replaces Mr. Bradley's shop, the chief said, he'll miss his morning ritual.


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