York County Residents Pinch Pennies From Gas to Save Highways

Tue October 01, 2013 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt


The total cost of the highway 121 project is $6.6 million.
The total cost of the highway 121 project is $6.6 million.
The total cost of the highway 121 project is $6.6 million. Project challenges include rocks found along the 8,500 ft. (2,590.8 m) stretch.

York County in South Carolina has been a pioneer for funding highway projects with money gained from travelers using the county’s highways. The program was named Pennies for Progress, because the taxes charged are typically only a few cents on each purchase of gas, appliances or prepared foods. Pennies for Progress projects must be placed on the ballot in the county where the work is to take place. Voters get to decide if they want money to be spent on the particular highway projects involved including highway 121.

State highway 121 forms an important corridor for motorists just east of downtown Rock Hill to the southern route to the center of the state. This two-lane highway is hazardous due to drivers passing slower-moving vehicles. This situation made the highway the perfect candidate for Pennies for Progress.

The project on state highway 121 is partially funded by Pennies for Progress, but the majority is federally funded. Pennies for Progress allowed the federal government to take over the project.

“This fact does not affect anything about the project or how it appears to the public,” said Phil Leazer program manager of Pennies for Progress. “It is just a matter of where the money came from.”

Mike Kamis of Eagle Construction is the main contractor. John Huskins is the resident construction engineer on the project.

Utility conflicts can slow down the work on certain highway projects, but according to Leazer problems are not anticipated on this project. York County was the first county in the state of South Carolina to start the Capital Sales Tax and Use Program.

“This is a limited period — in this case seven years — where there is a one cent sales and use tax program for generating funding for road improvements. I don’t know that people really understand how good a method this is for financing highway projects such as this; some of the last figures we have show that some 50 percent or maybe even more of the funding comes from somebody other than the residents of York County themselves. There’s a lot to be said for that when you’ve got so many people using the area roads that don’t live here, said Leazer.”

A sales and use tax is added to appliance sales, sporting goods and many other items. Any non-prepared foods, such as items that are applicable to food stamps or a WIC card, are exempt.

South Carolina highway 121 starting at Flint Street marks the beginning of the project. This was an old “drag strip” popular when there was a middle school in the vicinity. The spot where the highway goes from a five lane to a two lane highway lent itself to cars racing to get ahead of each other before the two lane section started. The five lanes will continue from the spot where a McDonald’s restaurant recently burned down, all the way up to Highway 191.

“This is probably the last bottle-neck before motorists reach the southern part of Rock Hill where the traffic disperses,” said Leazer. “This new road will feature two lanes on either side and a center turn lane for a total of five lanes. There will be sidewalks, curbs and gutters and when everything is said and done it will be a lot nicer area. This should also prime the area for some development which may or may not come down this way as well; I think it will end up being a good thing for everybody.”

The project is just less than 2 mi. (3.2 km) in length. This was one of the final priorities in the very first sales tax program that York County proposed. The York County Council, the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the city of Rock Hill all worked very hard to get out there and find the necessary funding and matching dollars to build and be certain that this project got done, according to Leazer.

“At one point we didn’t even know if we were going to get it done,” said Leazer. “We did everything we could to get prepared for the project. In the end we worked well with DOT, got some funding from them and the federal government and were able to get the project under way.

Leazer said that crews have encountered many rocks on site. The stretch is 8,500 ft. (2,590.8 m). Crews had done soil boring and testing and discovered there was some rock. The city of Rock Hill is relocating a water line and sewer line along the same stretch, so rock was already existent.

“Though the weather has been quite rainy lately, Mike Kamis who works with the main contractor on the job told me he was very happy because the little bit of dry, warm weather we’ve gotten lately has actually allowed them to lay curb so he’s very happy,” said Leazer.

Winter months could cause problems if work continues. Crews will not be able to complete the top layer of asphalt or thermal paint. This is a fairly straight road with a steady downward and upward slope, so it should not contain some of the complications with intersections, curves and utilities and the coordination of that work involved with another Pennies for Progress job on the north side of Rock Hill. That particular project centered on the city’s Mount Gallant Road.

The contract time on this job is up in slightly less than a year from now, in May of 2014 the work should be completed. Construction began in June of 2012. The total cost of the project is $6.6 million and $1.2 million has been spent so far, according to Leazer.

“We worked on this project to get it funded through 1997; it is one of the last projects we’ve got to do,” said Leazer. “It was a lot of hard work and dedication by the York County Council and the SC DOT to get the funding together to do it.”

As with every urban road project that the SC DOT has been involved with, when a municipality such as this is involved there also are heavy utilities involved.

“Add onto that the poor soil conditions and the attempt to make this the right type of surface to build a roadway structure on and those are your challenges,” said John Huskins, project manager with SC DOT on this site. “Eagle Construction has secured a pit for securing foundation material for the road; fortunately it is just down nearby Highway 901, very close to this job site.”

Blackjack or highly organic material is found extensively along this construction route. The area stays wet and all the rock material creates difficult conditions according to Huskins.

Curb and gutter work is being done right now to get ready for the compacted concrete work to proceed, according to Huskins. The recent tropical storm weather in early June has impacted the road building work going on in York County. Heavier than average rainfall amounts puts all projects, including this one behind.

Equipment used on the project includes a Komatsu PC 138US LC tracked excavator; a United Rentals Bomag compactor; a Case 870 tractor with a sweeper attachment; a wheeled Doosan Daewood Mega 200-V loader; a pair of Wacker Neuson RT SC2 automatic, remote-controlled tamps; a Cat wheeled loader, John Deere tracked excavator, a Bobcat skid steer and various other pieces of equipment either rented or owned by SC DOT.

Roller-compacted concrete (RCC) is used on the job. RCC or rolled concrete is a special blend of concrete that has essentially the same ingredients as conventional concrete but in different ratios, and increasingly with partial substitution of fly ash for Portland cement. RCC is a mix of cement-fly ash, water, sand, aggregate and common additives, but contains much less water. The produced mix is drier and has no slump. RCC is placed similar to paving.

The material is delivered by dump trucks or conveyors, spread by small bulldozers or specially modified asphalt pavers and compacted by vibratory rollers. It does not require any forms, dowels, reinforcing steel and finishing.

Roller-Compacted Concrete (RCC) uses aggregate sizes often found in conventional concrete. However, the blending of aggregates will be different than that done in the case of conventional concrete. Crushed aggregates are preferable in RCC mixes due to the sharp interlocking edges of the particles, which help to reduce segregation, provide higher strengths, and better aggregate interlock at joints and cracks.

The moisture content in the mix should be such that the mix is dry enough to support the weight of a vibratory roller yet wet enough to ensure an even distribution of the cement paste. Compared with conventional concrete, RCC pavement mixes have lower water content, lower paste content, no air-entrainment, although some admixtures may be used to increase workability and control set time as well as finer aggregates. There is a smaller maximum size than coarse aggregate.

RCC concrete pavement look a bit different, and is not suitable for high-speed roads. It should be ideal for this location as vehicles travel between a number of traffic lights on their way out of or into town.

At this point there are no plans for streetlights along this stretch of roadway, but as Huskins points out, that could change. There are some eight to nine subcontractors on this job and 15 workers on the site at one time. As work gets more intense that number will rise to perhaps 20 to 25 workers or more.

“This is a hectic area of highway and of the city,” said Huskins. “Whenever we will have to close a lane down the traffic will no doubt back up rather quickly. I’ve done several projects of this type all around Rock Hill and the general vicinity and this one is fairly standard, a pretty straight shot with nothing too challenging aside from the excess rocks in the area and the extra moist soil we had to strengthen with outside materials.”

There is a Rock Hill City Fire Department branch on this route. During construction extra caution will be used to ensure that this driveway remains open at all times. When completed, this highway should allow fire men the accessibility they need to save lives.