Originally created 12/13/01

Bank agrees to fund highway's extension



After decades of running into roadblocks, officials received enough money Wednesday to finally break ground on South Carolina's portion of Bobby Jones Expressway.

A South Carolina banking board agreed to issue $65 million in revenue bonds to Aiken County and committed to funding the other $100 million needed to finish the highway loop.

"We were pleased, very pleased," said Skip Grkovic, North Augusta's director of economic and community development. "I mean this is a project that's been talked about for 30 years, and it's now moving forward."

South Carolina's seven-member State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, created in 1997 to fund extensive road and bridge projects, met Wednesday in Greenville to allocate $200 million.

The majority of that money - $135 million - went to Horry County's proposed 20-mile, six-lane highway designed to alleviate congestion around Myrtle Beach.

Even after Wednesday's allocation, Horry County's Carolina Bays Parkway requires $63 million, said Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, who was appointed to the bank board this summer.

He said that once the board finds enough money to fully fund Horry County's project, Aiken County will be next in line.

"The next $100 million goes to finish the project in Aiken without a further vote," Mr. Ryberg said. "So basically, we've got full funding between what we got (Wednesday) and the commitment we got."

Aiken County's allocation, which officials said should be immediately available, will be enough to complete construction on the first phase of the Bobby Jones project - a 2 1/2 -mile stretch between the Savannah River and U.S. Highway 1.

The money also will cover buying the right-of-way and engineering work for the project's second phase, which extends eight miles to Interstate 20.

"This is a big victory for Aiken County," Mr. Ryberg said. "I think it also shows that persistence can equal success."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.



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