Facing shortfall, Richland County freezes work on Atlas Road, other Penny projects

The Richland County penny transportation tax is paying to widen Bluff Road in south Columbia.
The Richland County penny transportation tax is paying to widen Bluff Road in south Columbia. tdominick@thestate.com

Facing soaring budget estimates that put the future of its road improvement program at risk, Richland County on Tuesday delayed work on a dozen road projects for at least two months.

The county’s transportation committee delayed moving forward with the projects, including the widening of Atlas Road, projected to be $26 million over budget.

Work on the projects — none of which have begun construction yet — will cease until Richland County Council comes up with criteria for moving forward on the $1 billion program that faces a shortfall of at least $154 million, the county’s projections show.

Of the projects affected, Atlas Road was the furthest along. Construction was set to begin this year on widening Atlas between Bluff Road and Garners Ferry, program manager David Beaty told council members on Tuesday.

Also delayed are design work on Bluff Road, Lower Richland Boulevard, Pineview Road, Polo Road and Spears Creek Church Road, as well as intersection improvements at Clemson Road and Sparkleberry Lane, and sidewalk improvements on Alpine Road, Harrison Boulevard, Polo Road and Sunset Drive.

Combined, the delayed projects total $150 million, including $51 million in projected overruns.

Work will be frozen until the committee can review criteria for limiting the scope of future work in September. The full council won’t be able to approve those changes until its October meeting.

“Because these are such huge projects, we want to get them right,” said transportation committee chairman Chip Jackson.

Councilwoman Yvonne McBride said she wanted to see the projects move forward, noting council has already approved moving forward on other projects that are over the referendum amount, and that some of the delayed improvements are safety-related.

“I do not want the death of anyone on my conscience,” said McBride, who is not a voting member of the committee.

The traffic on Pamplico Highway was so light, two people laid down in the middle of the two-lane highway during rush hour for a minute before a vehicle appeared, yet the State of South Carolina will pay $340 million to transform it into five lanes.

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.