Richland County is seeking federal money to begin work on a new road into Lower Richland, hoping to drive progress for new industry along the Shop Road Extension.
The highly competitive TIGER grant program targets road projects with the potential to boost the local economy – and a Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce official said Shop Road has “the greatest economic development and job creation potential” in the county’s 22-year transportation improvement program.
“It’s also one of the more expensive and would take the longest to do,” added Lee Bussell, the chamber’s immediate past president.
The county has been gearing up its $1.07 billion transportation improvement program, funded with the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax approved by voters in 2012. Its biggest hang-up so far has been choosing a private-sector team to manage the program. The council’s first run at awarding the $50 million contract fell apart in early February amid a rare protest that the process was unfair.
With the grant application, county officials are looking to make headway on what’s now the top priority among a handful of new roads to be built with the local sales tax.
The route has not been chosen for the $72 million path through the rural countryside south of Columbia, said Rob Perry, the county’s transportation director.
But the extension would pick up at the end of Shop Road, where it now dead-ends into Pineview Road, and connect it with Garners Ferry Road. As it stands, the first leg – less than a mile of roadway running between Pineview Road and Longwood Road – is being designed as a separate project of the county’s economic development office.
The county bought 200 acres there about a decade ago as part of a failed plan to relocate the State Farmers Market. Now, it’s marketing the site for new industry.
During the 2012 campaign for the penny sales tax, business leaders touted the Shop Road Extension as a way to open up thousands of acres of now-inaccessible land to development, saying large tracts for light industrial, manufacturing and distribution activities are in particularly short supply.
If the county were to get the TIGER grant to build the new route, it then could redirect the penny money set aside for Shop Road to another project.
“Anything they can do to use the money we have to leverage other funds is a smart use of that money,” Bussell said, “and I think it would speed that project up.”
The amount of the grant request has not been determined, but would range between $10 million and $35 million, based on information provided last week to the council’s transportation committee.
Perry said the grant would fund construction between Pineview and Longwood roads, at $5.8 million, plus pay for the purchase of land for the remainder of the project. Grants are to be announced in September.
If the grant goes through, affected residents would be notified of a set of public hearings – likely a year from now – to discuss alternative routes, Perry said. The county would choose the route based on public sentiment, cost and impact to the environment.
“You’ve got any number of ways to tie to Garners Ferry,” Perry said.
Tuesday night, County Council agreed with staff that the Shop Road Extension was the project most likely to be funded by the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The grant application is due April 28.
Assistant transportation director Chris Gossett said the federal government expects to award just 50 grants from among 1,000 submitted across the country. Just putting together an application costs about $50,000, he said.
The first piece of the Shop Road Extension, through the county-owned acreage, is being designed by CDM Smith. The county is negotiating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a permit to cross wetlands, Perry and economic director Nelson Lindsay said.