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Funds sought for road study

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By Jenny Hartley

Officials hope Lancaster County will land a grant that will pay for a study of an important traffic corridor.

The grant, available for up to $300,000, could fund a study of the U.S. 521 corridor, from the Lancaster city limits to the North Carolina state line. It would also look at the S.C. 9 corridor, from the Chester County line to where it meets U.S. 521.

The area south of S.C. 75 in the Panhandle to the Lancaster city limits is undeveloped for the most part right now, as sewer lines have not been extended through the area.

But when those lines are built, "It'll be, Katie, bar the door," said County Administrator Steve Willis.

"There's a tremendous amount of open area," he said. "We've got to plan ahead."

Lancaster County qualifies for the grant, Willis said. The Catawba Regional Council of Governments will apply for it on behalf of the county.

The study would be important in creating a master plan for the corridor, and for S.C. 9, which could one day become the home of a large automaker off Interstate 77 in Chester County.

Lancaster County would benefit from that through spin-off industry, such as suppliers for the auto plant.

"With S.C. 9, there's still the potential to save it," Willis said.

State House Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-District 45, said the county has no planning for transportation needs. The study would look into creating a long-term future land-use plan and examine potential funding sources for infrastructure, such as roads.

Mulvaney said in discussions with state commerce officials, he's been told that there are more inquiries for Lancaster County from firms looking to locate to the Palmetto State than any other county in the state.

He said he's learned from the state Commerce Department that Freightliner, the nation's leading producer of heavy trucks, chose not to locate in Lancaster County because of a lack of a long-term plan for land use and infrastructure and no means to fund infrastructure needs.

"I thought Lancaster County had a tremendous opportunity" to land the project, Mulvaney said. "I was disappointed."

Instead, the truck maker decided to move to S.C. 274 in York County. It's an undeveloped area, but with high-growth potential similar to areas in the Panhandle. Mulvaney said S.C. 274 was constructed by the York County's Pennies for Progress program, which adds 1 cent to the sales tax to pay for local roads. Lancaster County does not have a similar program to help pay for roads.

Mulvaney said he worked on the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce's long-term transportation plan about five years ago. The plan has received little attention.

"I've never understood why the chamber's proposal has been ignored," Mulvaney said. "Now we're learning that planning has an impact on more than just who's here now."

Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. President Keith Tunnell said if the county receives the grant, it should focus on U.S. 521 to S.C. 75, and S.C.9, including the airport. There are large undeveloped tracts along this corridor, including a 1,500-acre tract and a 700-acre tract.

"You're going to see a major boom in growth once sewer gets there," he said.

Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or jhartley@thelancasternews.com