Seven other interns and I spent nine weeks this summer with the Richland County penny transportation program, and the experience changed my life — literally. It had such an impact on me that I am changing my major from business administration to finance and communications.
We were regularly matched up with mentors. I met many influential and successful people — from Columbia’s mayor to Richland County Council members to professionals — and their achievements, knowledge and guidance had a positive influence on me.
We were even assigned a real-life project with a real-life budget to design from start to finish. We designed a $6.7 million greenway, shared-use path and roadway that will improve the quality of life in Southeast Richland; we sought to reduce traffic in the area by including a component that promotes walking.
I also learned a lot about the history of the penny program, which helped me understand its importance to Richland County. The program encompasses public transportation, road paving and construction, bike paths, sidewalks, greenways and more.
As I came to understand the many transportation needs in Richland County as well as state and federal leaders’ failure to provide help, I developed a deep admiration for county voters’ decision to increase the sales tax to solve transportation problems and improve quality of life in their own communities.
I also learned how important public transportation is. When I rode the Comet, and saw people board the bus in work uniforms, it dawned on me that employers depend on the bus system to deliver workers on time and that those workers need transportation for work and for the other trips that car owners take for granted.
There’s far more to this program than meets the eye.