Council Approves Scaling Back Transportation Projects

Staff Report From Columbia CEO

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Richland County Transportation will scale down several remaining road projects in order to complete a portion of all projects under the County’s Penny Tax program.

Since the 2012 sales tax referendum that implemented the Penny Tax, several factors have led to significant cost increases for projects, including higher construction and materials costs, project overdesigns and the cost of utility relocations not originally being included.

On May 5, County Council voted to reduce the scope of 15 such projects and leave nine others as they are. Doing so brings the costs of projects in line with estimates from the original referendum, thereby allowing all 24 remaining road projects to move forward in some capacity.

How the County scales down projects will vary, but examples could include:

widening two-lane roads to three lanes instead of five

adding a single turn lane at an intersection rather than shifting the intersection’s location

adding multiple turn lanes while removing streetscaping and landscaping from plans

Ahead of Council’s decision, Transportation staff evaluated and addressed safety concerns with each ongoing project. If a project did not have a specific safety issue, staff addressed traffic capacity and flow concerns. Projects that did not specifically address safety, capacity or flow issues were then evaluated to determine any economic benefits.

Staff used traffic studies and public comment to re-evaluate projects, adjusting their scope to better align with the study results and feedback. By scaling down projects, the County will not have to eliminate three road widenings and one intersection project altogether, which was the other option given to Council.

In an effort to update residents on the progress of the Penny program, Councilman Calvin “Chip” Jackson, District 9, is partnering with the Transportation department for a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21. The meeting can be accessed on the County website and Facebook.

Councilman Says Vote Points to Fiscal Responsibility, Transparency for Program

Jackson, who has chaired the Transportation Ad Hoc Committee for the past 17 months, issued the following statement after the May 5 meeting:

"The vote made by the full Council, along with other recent decisions, will allow all of the road projects in the original 2012 referendum and approved by Richland County voters to now be accomplished. Not only that, but they will be done in a more transparent and fiscally responsible manner. …

“I also want to thank the citizens of Richland County who voted for these much-needed road improvement projects in the County. The citizens can be assured that their tax dollars are being spent on road improvements and greenways in a manner now that is consistent with what we all hoped for when we, as citizens, voted for the 2012 referendum."

Jackson also thanked Transportation staff and related County offices for their efforts with the Penny Tax program.

Millions in Savings Could Be Used for Shortfalls or Other Projects

Transportation staff estimate scaling down the 15 road projects as outlined will lower the total cost by nearly $42 million under their referendum amount. Just over $14.5 million remains from previously completed projects that came in under their referendum amount.

The potential $56.5 million combined savings could be used as a reserve for any shortfalls if the current estimates increase later. It could also go toward paving and resurfacing dirt roads or to improve sidewalks in the County.

The list of 15 projects Council voted to scale down are:

Atlas Road widening

Bluff Road Phase 2 improvements

Broad River Road widening

Lower Richland Boulevard widening

Polo Road widening

Shop Road widening

Spears Creek Church Road widening

Pineview Road improvements

Screaming Eagle Road and Percival Road intersection

Garners Ferry Road and Harmon Road intersection

Shop Road Extension Phase 2

Broad River Road Corridor neighborhood improvements

Crane Creek neighborhood improvements

Decker Boulevard/Woodfield Park neighborhood improvements

Trenholm Acres neighborhood improvements