Originally created 11/06/01

Aiken County pushes Bobby Jones project



NORTH AUGUSTA - If the Bobby Jones Expressway extension is not built, traffic on U.S. Highway 25 will almost double in the next 24 years, according to the latest Aiken County traffic studies.

The project would extend Interstate 520, from its current end in Augusta, 15.5 miles to Exit 5 of Interstate 20.

So far, not one tree has been cut nor one truckload of asphalt laid in the South Carolina section.

On Monday, area planners and economic development personnel presented the details of Aiken County's application for the extension to the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank's board.

The bank is the county's last chance to receive state funding for the expensive project. The county has asked for $138 million from the bank, which was created in 1997 to fund extensive road and bridge projects.

The bank will make its decision on funding by mid-December, said board Chairman Howard "Champ" Covington. Aiken County is up against Horry County, which is asking for $200 million to complete multiple road projects.

"This is simply the most important project for dealing with the long-range mobility needs of the area," said Greg Szymik with Aiken County Planning and Development.

The I-520 extension would provide an alternate route to U.S. Highway 25, which suffers from an influx of trucks and traffic trying to get to I-20.

Each day, approximately 27,700 vehicles travel Highway 25. If the extension is not built, by 2025 approximately 49,358 people will travel the road each day. Mr. Szymik said that could bring traffic to a standstill.

"Virtually every road in the North Augusta area is over capacity," Mr. Szymik said.

If the extension is built, by 2025 almost 55,000 people will travel South Carolina's leg of I-520 each day and traffic on North Augusta's roads will go virtually unchanged, he said.

To make Aiken County's application stronger, North Augusta completed a study on the trucks coming through its city. The study revealed 65 percent of those trucks begin or terminate a trip in North Augusta.

"The bottom line is we need this project taken care of," said Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, who was recently appointed to the infrastructure board.

Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 648-1395 or carly.phillips@augustachronicle.com.