New bridge might span Catawba River

Transit planners in Rock Hill and Fort Mill are eyeing plans to build another bridge across the Catawba River.

The bridge would span from the vicinity of Twin Lakes, Mount Gallant and India Hook roads in Rock Hill to Sutton Road in Fort Mill, providing a more direct route between the regions and a third river crossing in Rock Hill, which some officials say is much needed.

Early estimates indicate a five-lane bridge across three miles or so of land connecting the two regions will cost about $42.5 million.

Stories of sitting on the interstate aren’t rare. Traffic accidents and construction can lead to miles and hours of gridlock or standstill, especially during the morning and afternoon commutes.

Bill Meyer, Rock Hill planning and development director, was stuck on Interstate 77 for several hours one wintry day last year after a sign spanning the interstate looked like it was going to fall and the interstate was shut down, he said.

He had just passed S.C. 160, but wasn’t quite to Sutton Road, and the issue had “just locked that whole place down,” Meyer said.

He and other travelers pulled off at the state’s weigh station, and swapped drinks, snacks and conversation.

Another bridge across the river might have helped the problem, Meyer said. It could have alleviated interstate traffic by providing an alternative route for travelers heading north or south across eastern York County.

Last month the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Transportation Study committee (RFATS) awarded nearly $200,000 to local firm STV to assess whether there’s a need for a bridge. The firm also will determine more specific costs, alternative routes, and how residents and the environment would be affected.

RFATS is a multi-jurisdictional regional planning committee that prioritizes transit projects in eastern York County.

While much of the study area is heavily wooded, there are residential areas near the roads that will feed the bridge.

Emails from transit officials included in the S.C. Department of Transportation’s preliminary study of the project mention the possible presence of archaeological sites along the river that will require in-depth surveying. Any sensitive environmental sites also will need to be studied.

The study likely will be complete next spring, said David Hooper, RFATS coordinator.

For a project that’s been a high priority for transit planners for years now, the step is an important one.

“It’s the next step” in a big project, Meyer said.

The geography and projected growth in the northern part of Rock Hill make that region the best bet for a new bridge, Meyer said.

Burdened bridges

York County has three river crossings. Two bridges are in Rock Hill at I-77 and U.S. 21. They are about a half-mile apart. Rock Hill stretches north beyond the bridges to the lake in neighborhoods branching out from Mount Gallant Road.

Traveling from northern Rock Hill to Fort Mill requires going south, then east, then north again.

A new bridge crossing would provide an east-west, more direct route between the two regions that won’t require traffic to flow south through already congested areas along Celanese and I-77 in Rock Hill, Meyer said.

According to the state department of transportation’s preliminary report, the proposed bridge also would assist regional emergency management planning efforts.

Some officials say the new route will help the region accommodate increasing traffic and growth.

The projected area for the bridge lies in a wooded swath of land northwest of where I-77 crosses the Catawba River, north of the site where Carolinas HealthCare Systems was recently given permission to build a hospital to serve the Fort Mill area.

“That certainly is a growth corridor,” said Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk, who thinks better connectivity between Rock Hill and Fort Mill neighborhoods will be beneficial to the growing areas.

The new hospital and communities such as Baxter Village cropping up in that area of Fort Mill are examples of the region’s potential for growth, he said.

The bridge will have “some very positive impact for the entire county,” said Doug Echols, mayor of Rock Hill.

“We all are aware of the traffic load that occurs from western to eastern York County in trying to get to I-77,” he said. “It should be a much better route.”

Among its goals, the study will determine a new bridge’s impact on people living in or near its path and on the environment, Meyer said.

Moving forward

If RFATS decides to move forward with the bridge project, the group will seek federal and state approval, in addition to seeking public input on the finalized bridge plans.

The project, if approved, likely will take about seven or eight years to complete, Meyer said. Planning, engineering, environmental studies, permitting, and purchasing rights of way will take about four to five years and construction will take another three, he said.

RFATS receives $4.39 million in federal dollars annually and already has begun setting aside a bulk of those dollars in preparation for the bridge project.

By Jamie Self, Staff Reporter with The Herald