Columbia and the Midlands should focus more attention on commercial and improved residential development of its riverfronts, civic leaders said during a planning event Thursday, maybe considering a pedestrian bridge across the Congaree River.
Lexington County, meanwhile, should consider a penny sales tax addition to its coffers, similar to what Richland County has enacted, the group of more than 75 citizen planners suggested, as Columbia also looks to aesthetically improve the major intersections leading into the city along Huger Street and make a stronger effort to tie the Congaree to Main Street.
Those were just a few of the priorities that emerged Thursday from a transportation symposium held one year after the region conducted its first Reality Check conference. The Reality Check was an inclusive effort to formulate a plan to accommodate a projected future influx of new residents to the Midlands.
More than 300 area leaders met last year to begin preparing for what experts have said will be more than 450,000 new Midlands residents by 2040, just 25 years away. The southern region of the United States has become one of the most preferred areas of the country for immigrants and U.S. relocators, according to the American Planning Association.
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With the new arrivals will come the need for 174,000 new housing units, 1,700 new hospital beds, 14 new high schools, 30 new elementary schools, and 22 new kindergartens, according to the Urban Land Institute. Along with them will come 192,000 new jobs.
After public discussions and months of analysis, the input yielded three major guiding principles for growth for the area, including infrastructure and transportation, efficient development and green space, and economic drivers.
Each principle will be the subject of its own symposium during the next 24 months, where area leaders hone in on ground-level priorities for each. While capitalizing on the rivers is not a new idea in the Midlands, it is a constant theme of discussion.
Transportation, however, is a major issue that can make or break a positive growth pattern, experts said, and is very expensive to create and repair.
“Options, options, options,” said Jenny Isgett, infrastructure and transportation symposium chairwoman, should be at the core of all future transportation plans around the region. That should include everything from increased bus routes and the possibility of HOV lanes, to car-sharing and bikes and walking, she said.
“What we did a year ago was really create a vision, a big picture, but it wasn’t really a strategy or an action plan,” said Heather Foley, Urban Land Institute South Carolina executive director. “So what we’re looking to do over the next 18 months is break the three guiding principles down into a set of steps we can take to translate the vision into a reality.”
“One of the really important things for us to do as an organization is bring the public, private, nonprofit sectors together, so (they all) have buy-in, because these investments (are) huge, as we heard from the S.C. Ports Authority and S.C. Department of Transportation today.”