Will this be the year the long-planned extension of Bobby Jones Expressway into Aiken County will finally begin to come to fruition?
The extension would begin at Sand Bar Ferry Road -- where the Augusta section ends -- and cross the Savannah River by a bridge jointly funded by Georgia and South Carolina, and continue to U.S. Highway 1 in North Augusta and from there to Interstate 20 near the Belvedere interchange.
This Augusta bypass has been in the works for 30 years. Georgia has long since completed its share of the project, now it's South Carolina's turn. The problem has been funding. Neither the state nor localities have been able to come up with enough money.
But when the South Carolina Infrastructure Bank was formed, the funding issue was supposed to be worked out. The Aiken County Council passed a resolution to submit an application last year, but was then told the bank was out of money and was not accepting any more requests.
Well, this year, when the Legislature pumps more money into the bank, the Council plans to be Johnny-on-the-Spot. Its members are working with the Aiken legislative delegation in Columbia to see everything is done right -- and that localities, especially Aiken County and North Augusta, develop a means to raise matching funds.
"Infrastructure funding is very competitive and the county must show exactly how it is going to come up with its part of the money," notes state Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater.
"We need to move this project off dead center," seconds state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley. He points out that grass-roots support for the extension would have a beneficial impact on funding prospects -- and we think such support is growing.
After all, the bypass will ease transportation -- making the Aiken-Augusta area more "regional" in concept -- and that helps economic developers recruit more business and industry.
Of course, that's not the only reason to go through with the project. Another major plus is that it will ease commuter and daily traffic congestion as well. Let's keep our fingers crossed that South Carolina will finally make good on its pact with Georgia to expand the expressway.