State funds will go to pay for a road-widening project in a residential Aiken neighborhood, despite a citizens committee's recommendation that the money go to a more heavily traveled thoroughfare.
Aiken City Manager Roger LeDuc presented the proposal to reallocate $4.2 million that had been budgeted to complete the Whiskey Road-Silver Bluff Road connector and to widen Hitchcock Parkway, instead using it to widen three miles of Silver Bluff Road, which he said is experiencing explosive growth.
"Already there are 12,000 trips a day on that road, and in five years from now 15,000 trips a day will be generated," Mr. LeDuc said at Wednesday's Augusta Regional Transportation Study Committee meeting about Silver Bluff, adding that the development of 1,000 new homes and commercial properties has been approved for that area.
The opposition came mainly from the study's Citizens Advisory Committee members Les Morton and Marianne Pecoraro, who emphasized the need to add more lanes to Hitchcock instead of or in addition to improving Silver Bluff.
They disputed Mr. LeDuc's denial of Hitchcock traffic problems, with Ms. Pecoraro saying she took the busy road to Augusta recently and "didn't go over 20 miles per hour the whole time."
Mr. Morton said he didn't understand the sense of spending money on a residential area rather than a busy, popular gateway to the region's largest city.
"Developing Silver Bluff is going to put extra strain on Hitchcock Parkway, and I just don't see doing nothing there," he said.
In response to such concerns, Mr. LeDuc said that in the past 10 years Hitchcock has seen only a 7 percent increase in traffic, showing it simply is not growing as rapidly as Silver Bluff.
After a roughly 30-minute debate on the issue at Wednesday's combined Citizens Advisory and Technical Advisory committees morning meeting, the technical committee approved the controversial change in funding while the citizens committee tabled the issue.
Later in the day, ARTS' Policy Committee voted yes to the proposal - with virtually no debate - to make its approval official.
Mr. Morton said he was upset that the issue was allowed to move on to the Policy Committee without the citizens advisory committee's vote.
"It's as if our vote means nothing," he said during the meeting.
But study Coordinator Lynn Russell said that because the citizens committee is an advisory body, its members are not required to pass a proposal before it goes to the Policy Committee.
Wednesday's meeting marked the second time the citizens committee discussed the Aiken funding issue.
At the group's August meeting, member Phil Croll pointed out that half of the Whiskey-Silver Bluff Connector is complete and said Aiken needs to finish that project before tackling Silver Bluff Road. His comments persuaded other members to forgo voting.
Mr. LeDuc said Hitchcock Parkway is not out of Aiken's transportation picture; only now the project will be pushed back at least five years.
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aiken City Manager Roger LeDuc said Silver Bluff Road is part of a growing area.
The Aiken government will request funding to complete the Whiskey Road- Silver Bluff Road Connector with the city's one-cent sales tax plan later this year.