Today, thousands of miles of new roads exist in York County, roads that absent of any local intervention would, probably, not exist.
In the seventeen years since York County’s Pennies for Progress one-cent sales tax was first approved by York County voters, more than a half-billion dollars have been reinvested into the county’s road system.
That’s $545 million dollars in new, widened, and gravel roads that have been or will be paved when phase three of the project is complete.
The final project in phase one of the program — the widening of S.C. 121/Albright Road — is nearly finished. Pennies Program Manager Phil Leazer says it should be complete by late May or early June.
“That is a huge feat — something that the York County Council, the S.C. Department of Transportation and the staff here have worked very long for,” Leazer said. “We’ve scratched, pleaded and begged to find funding.”
Phase one of the project called for $211 million in improvements, while phase two passed in November 2003 with a budget of $173 million. Phase three, approved in November 2011, called for a budget of $161 million.
Leazer said the program has also gained attention from outside York County — including across the state and the southeast.
Greenville and Lexington counties, Leazer said, are both considering similar programs.
“They see this as a model, one that they would love to emulate. They see the benefits of it,” Leazer said.
A delegation from Gainesville, Fla. visited York County last spring in an attempt to hone in on York County’s efforts and revive a similar program that failed miserably in 2012.
“We needed to know more from a technical standpoint how the list of projects was created and prioritized and how the ballot was formed from a legal standpoint,” said Adrian Taylor, chairman of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.
“We didn’t communicate the issue well,” Taylor said. “It was promoted by elected officials and that impacted how much marketing they could do.”
Last fall, retail giant Walmart announced plans for a third Super Center to be built on the south side of Rock Hill, at S.C. 901 and Albright Road. At the time, a Walmart spokesman credited the nearby transportation infrastructure as one of several key reasons for choosing that particular location.
York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell, a longtime optometrist, agreed with Walmart’s reasoning.
“[Roads] are the lifeline of the county. It’s just like the arteries in your body, [roads] are the arteries of business in York County. So it’s fantastic,” Blackwell said.
Now, county engineers and staff continue their efforts to keep those arteries flowing.
“I think the Pennies program has just been catching up with what we need,” Leazer said, noting the county’s unprecedented growth in recent years. ”The Pennies program is paving the way for that to happen.”