FORT MILL — If gnashing your teeth is part of your daily commute along Hwy. 160, get ready to ditch that mouth guard.
But, it’s going to get a little worse before it gets better. At least for a day.
One lane will be closed Friday while a crew creates turn lanes on Hwy. 160 West at the intersection with Hwy. 21, and officials urge motorists to avoid the road if possible. For those who must take that route Friday, a detour will be clearly marked that will take drivers headed into or from downtown Fort Mill around the congested area.
This project, from the S.C. DOT and funded by a federal grant aimed at improving air quality by mitigating traffic congestion, is just one of several improvements coming to Hwy. 160, from the N.C. state line, all the way across the Sugar Creek Bridge to Indian Land in Lancaster County. Major improvements are also in store for equally congested Gold Hill Road. That project, as well as most of the work on the York County side of Hwy. 160 East and West, is paid for through Pennies for Progress.
Approved and renewed by voters, Pennies authorized an extra 1-cent added to sales tax in York County with the stipulation that the proceeds are used for road improvement projects. Budget shortfalls in previous years pushed the local projects back, but now Hwy. 160, the main artery through the heart of Fort Mill, is on the fast track – although that phrase can be relative.
“That is the No. 1 priority in Pennies III,” Phil Leazer, who oversees Pennies for Progress, said about Hwy. 160.
While the eastern portion of the road will get an extra lane in both directions, the western part, from the rush hour snarled Gold Hill intersection all the way up to the state line “is going to get a huge improvement in the near future,” Leazer said.
It will become a five-lane highway through the rest of Fort Mill to when it becomes Steele Creek Road as it nears N.C. 49.
“We already have a consultant on board and that particular consultant is already deep into design,” Leazer said.
The project Leazer is particularly excited about is a design concept for the Gold Hill Road/I-77 interchange. Noting that the road typically backs up from the entrance ramp all the way to the Knightsbridge subdivision and causes drivers looking to turn to “blindly take opportunities to try to squeeze between two cars,” Leazer said it will not only improve traffic flow, but also cut down on accidents. Described as a “double crossover diamond,” the design is a bit of engineering genius, Leazer said.
“It gives you a small window of unimpeded, unchallenged left turns and you can process so many more vehicles per hour,” he said.
The only caveat is that, other than the turn lanes expected to be installed Friday, the other projects are at least one to three years away from completion. The Hwy. 160 West widening could begin before the end of this year, Leazer said, but like most of the projects in the pipeline, it all depends on how long it takes the county to secure right-of-way agreements from property owners.
“It’s frustrating when there are some things we just don’t have control over,” he said.
“You can go into a project and have everybody happy and ready to sign and we can go to town, but generally that is not the case. It can be very contentious to some people and we owe it to those property owners do what we can minimize the effects as best as we can and that can take some time.”
Leazer said public awareness is one way to get wary property owners on board.
“There are people living here for years and they have watched the road become more traveled as more people have moved here,” he said. “But when they see we can provide an opportunity for them to get in and out of their driveways and businesses quicker and safer, that helps.”