From a new sheriff in Lexington County to big development in downtown Columbia, the new year will be a busy one in the Midlands.
Here, a look at some things that will be making headlines in 2015.
State Infrastructure Bank: Political and civic leaders in the city of Columbia and Richland and Lexington counties are hoping for good news about a $325 million application for state transportation money that would improve access to the airport; protect pedestrians from heavy traffic on campus and downtown; and eliminate exasperating waits as trains cross streets.
Making waves: Using money collected on restaurant meals, Richland County will start work on building the largest water and adventure park in the state, finally making use of 207 acres in Northeast Richland the county bought in 2006. So far, they’ve kept contract negotiations quiet.
A green street: In March, Richland County breaks ground on its first major road project using the local penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for transportation improvements – three blocks of heavy landscaping along Greene Street between Assembly and Huger streets. The centerpiece will be a raised plaza called Foundation Square. As one city official noted, “It’s going to feel more like a park than a street.”
New lawman in Lexington County: A new sheriff will take office next spring after voters make their choice. It’s the first change in more than 40 years, after longtime incumbent James Metts stepped down before pleading guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants at the jail he once supervised. Candidate filing closes Jan. 12; the election is set for April 21.
And speaking of elections... Columbia voters will decide in November whether it’s time for a change on City Council. Three of the seven seats are to be filled. Citywide Councilman Cameron Runyan and voters also will choose representatives for districts 2 and 3 – seats now held by councilmen Brian DeQuincey Newman and Moe Baddourah, respectively. All three are completing their first full terms, though the move in 2013 to shift elections to the fall instead of the spring cut the terms of all incumbents by six months. The terms of Runyan, Newman and Baddourah end Dec. 31.
In Lexington County, there will be 10 municipal elections. The outcome will determine whether power struggles among mayors and council members persist in Chapin and West Columbia.
Faster commute through Lexington: A new set of digital traffic signals that adapt to the flow of traffic is set to start easing congestion in and around the steadily growing town of 18,000 residents by fall. It’s a model that state transportation officials may emulate in other communities.
Dollars and cents: Columbia City Council will be facing some big financial decisions in 2015: How to pay for some $50 million in commitments to the development of the Bull Street property and whether to raise water and sewer rates as customers face $700 million in federally mandated improvements to the sewer system.
New leader for Richland 1: The Richland 1 school board will have a big decision to make this year. The seven-member board is poised to begin interviewing candidates for a new superintendent. A consulting firm is expected to present a slate of potential candidates in early January. In Lexington 3, J. Chester Floyd announced his retirement June 30.
Body cameras for patrol officers: The Columbia Police Department plans to outfit all of its patrol officers with new body cameras. The changes were prompted in part amid national concerns about mistrust of police, particularly among African-Americans in the wake of deaths of black men in Florida, Missouri and New York by white officers. Columbia officers are currently undergoing training to know how and when to use the cameras and will be outfitted with them in 2015.
Project Zero commercial: State public safety officials are hoping to begin a new phase of their Target Zero campaign, aimed at decreasing the number of traffic-related fatalities to zero throughout the year. The S.C. Department of Public Safety has produced several 60-second commercial spots as part of that campaign.
Contributing: Staff writers Harrison Cahill, Carolyn Click, Tim Flach, Dawn Hinshaw, Clif LeBlanc