State of Collins Road, bridge worry residents

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Residents fight to get road repaved

By Reece Murphy

 Reece Murphy 


INDIAN LAND – Homeowners along Indian Land’s Collins Road are pleading with local and state officials for repairs to their pothole-riddled road.

Far from any concrete resolution to their concerns, their issues illustrate the effects South Carolina’s perennial lack of road funding has on residents who live on the state’s crumbling secondary roads.

Collins Road runs 1.7 miles from Charlotte Highway near Bojangles at the Cross Creek Shopping Center to Henry Harris Road.

Shelley Pawlyk lives in one of about 25 homes on or just off Collins Road. She’s lived there since 1995.

“Deep holes, jagged edges, round potholes that extend past 10 feet, ragged (road) edges, uneven surfaces, patches of all different colors from the different mixes they’ve used,” Pawlyk said, ticking off a mental list of problems with the road. “There’s no streetlights, so it’s dark.”

“When we moved here, I think most people had in the back of their minds that ‘Surely they’ll pave this road sometime,’” she said. “You can imagine, after 19 years of seeing exactly the same thing, it’s deplorable.”

Pawlyk and other neighbors, such as Tonya Banbury, said while Collins Road has never been especially good, its condition took a turn for worse about 10 years ago as neighborhood development began on nearby Shelley Mullis Road and heavy trucks used Collins Road as a cut-through.

“There was just an incredible amount of dump trucks and cement trucks traveling up and down the (Collins) road,” said Banbury, a 17-year-resident. “From there it just seemed to deteriorate the road so significantly that it was being reduced to gravel. It certainly was a pivotal time for the road.”

Illustrating the effect on residents, Pawlyk said she and her two neighbors counted six flat tires amongst them, multiple bent rims and thousands of dollars worth of damage to their vehicles from the ever-shifting potholes and crumbling road edges.

Pawlyk said her most recent incident occurred within the last month or so when she was forced to hug the right side of the road one night as a truck came at her head-on, weaving around potholes.

She said the move forced her to drive through a “non-stop jagged ditch-of-a-pothole” on the edge of the road that knocked her front end out of alignment. When she went to have her car checked out, the inspection revealed severe tire damage incurred from repeatedly driving through potholes.

“The potholes had scraped the inside walls of my tires so bad that wires in the treads were sticking out,” Pawlyk said. “Those tires should have had two more years of life in them, but I had to buy four new tires at about $600, plus get the front end realigned, which was $60.

“We’re pretty good at avoiding potholes, but we’re not that good because they keep appearing,” she said. 

Other concerns range from how the road is affecting their property value to an increase in litter they blame on the road’s unkempt appearance to the potential for even worse damage to the road and a bridge over Six Mile Creek from the new Queensbridge subdivision.

A bridge, less than a mile from U.S. 521 near the future entrance to the neighborhood, is still  pockmarked with potholes, its wooden support beams underneath showing years of obvious stress from weight.

Banbury said the situation is much more serious than damage to cars, saying the road’s poor condition is becoming a matter of “life and limb.”

“It feels like it could very easily get to be a critical mass issue that could involve personal injury,” Banbury said. 

“My biggest concern is for people who don’t understand the state of the road and how it would really, really be smart to slow down while driving on it,” she said, “especially teenagers running up and down the road, oftentimes running late for school.”

No easy resolution

After her most recent incident, Pawlyk and others began contacting public officials to see about getting Collins Road, and others in the area such as Henry Harris and Stacy Howie roads, repaved. 

Among the local officials Pawlyk contacted were members of the Lancaster County Transportation Committee and Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis. She also contacted officials at the S.C. Department of Transportation and S.C. Sen. Greg Gregory.

Pawlyk said the answer she received from all of them, that there was no funding available, was frustrating.

“It’s more of the same,” Pawlyk said.  “You have people in government positions who always do what they can with what they have, and they can’t come up with any creative ideas to help us?

“We understand there was $41 million in available funding from the state for road repairs,” she said. “I think if they really chose too, they could get some of that funding to resurface the road.”

Willis said he could understand Pawlyk’s frustrations, but on a county level there is little that can be done due to the paltry amount of state funding the county receives and the fact that Collin is a state-maintained road.

Willis said under state law, the funding counties receive from the state, generated by the state’s gas tax, is controlled by independent county transportation committees appointed by each county’s General Assembly delegation.

Lancaster County, he said, gets about $1.3 million a year. Of that, only 75 percent can be spent on county roads and is usually used to pave dirt roads in the county.

The remaining 25 percent, he said, must be spent on state secondary roads. The amount, however, is inadequate to pave all of one road, especially since paving one mile of road could eat up the county’s entire secondary state road budget.

“Out of about 900 miles of road in Lancaster County, 75 percent of them are south of Andrew Jackson (state) park,” Willis said. “Full-depth reclamation (paving) could easily run between $300,000 and $400,000 (for the 1.7 miles of Collins Road).

“You could use that money to pave Collins Road, which would be good for them, but the other 797,890 or so people in the county wouldn’t be very happy,” he said.

Willis said there is no doubt Collins Road is a bad road. He said as much as the county would like to help residents come up with a sufficient solution, that help is likely going to have to come from SCDOT.

SCDOT District 4 Engineer John McCarter said funding for resurfacing secondary routes such as Collins Road is based on a formula that includes not only road condition, but volume of traffic.

He said the 1.7-mile-long Collins Road is considered a “federally eligible route,” or FA route, meaning federal funding can be used for its repairs. 

He said while it is an eligible candidate for funding, it is competing with 485 miles of other FA roads in Lancaster County, including 278 miles of similar secondary roads. 

To repave them all, would cost about $145 million, yet District 4 got only about 1 percent of that last year to spend on road repairs for the entire district. 

The $41 million Pawlyk referred to, McCarter said, did come as a surprise to SCDOT districts, but the funding was for the entire state and wouldn’t have helped Collins Road anyway, since it had to be spent on routes that were not eligible for federal funding.

McCarter said he’s not deaf to the pleas of Pawlyk and other Collins Road residents. He’s ordered a new pavement evaluation and traffic count be conducted on Collins Road so its formula would be up-to-date when ranking for funding is compiled later in the year.

Still, he said, Lancaster County’s secondary road problems are not limited to Collins Road.

“The need for resurfacing in Lancaster County is evident just looking at the hundreds of miles of pavements that are in poor condition,” McCarter said. “A solution does exist. Technology is improving the road industry and extending the life of our pavements more than ever.

“The missing link is ‘How do we pay for it?’” he said. “In the meantime, our maintenance forces will do what they can to patch Collins and the other 900 miles of road in the county.”

Gregory agreed with Pawlyk on the condition of Collins Road and other officials on funding. 

“I think it’s (Collins Road) falling apart. It’s in terrible condition, just patchwork over patchwork, so it definitely needs to be resurfaced,” Gregory said. “Of course, the question is where to get the money.”

Gregory said he continues to work toward finding a way to pay for local roads.

Last year, Gregory proposed a bill that would allow counties to hold a referendum on increasing their gas tax by 2 percent to fund local road repair projects – a bill that has stalled in committee and faces a bleak future since Gov. Nikki Haley has threatened to veto any gas tax increases.

Gregory said he believes the condition of South Carolina’s roads, and the lack of funding to repair them, is the “biggest problem facing our state right now” especially in the upstate, where weather has much more of a negative effect on roads.

“I think that the county transportation committee and the local and state departments of transportation do the best they can with the very limited resources they have available, but it’s really not enough to take care of the spider web of roads we have,” Gregory said. 

“It’s just a no-tax-increase climate,” he said. “The approach this year is going to be to raise various fees with the money going toward roads, which I think fees are less popular than tax increases. I think most people would prefer the gas tax increase because they know roads are falling apart. That’s the only remedy.”

One possible            solution

Willis said while the county doesn’t have state funding to repair Collins Road, it is possible that  residents could lobby the county’s Capital Project Sales Tax Commission for help.

The Capital Project Sales Tax Commission is the independent body set up to manage a one-cent sales tax to pay for construction of the new Lancaster County Courthouse, which will be paid off before the term of the tax expires.

This spring, Willis said, the commission will be accepting ideas from residents on how to spend the remaining money raised by the tax.

“Then they’ll take the list of potential projects and put the whole list on the ballot for voters to decide,” he said. “And they can’t just say, ‘We’re going to spend $10 million on roads, trust us,’ they’ve got to say, ‘Here’s how much we’ll raise and this is what we’re going to do with it.’

“But then you’ve got the library, parks and recreation, schools, all of those folks looking at it (the money),” he said. “County Council has simply said they’d like to look at using it for road maintenance, but they would have to work with the transportation committee.”

Pawlyk, Banbury and others said they’ll continue pressing to have something done about their road and others in the area.

They attended the Lancaster County Planning Commission meeting Jan. 21 in support of a neighbor whose property borders the Queensbridge development.

Pawlyk said she was glad to see the commissioners took much of what they had to say about the development seriously, though she was disheartened that they didn’t place any conditions on developers about the bridge, which she fears will suffer from heavy equipment traffic.

“All it’s going to do is take a handful of trucks and that bridge is done,” Pawlyk said.

Pawlyk said her concern with the road is that only a handful of its potholes have been filled since they first contacted SCDOT more than a month ago.

Pawlyk said despite her and other residents’ frustrations, they’re going to continue working for both short-term and long-term solutions. 

“We’re talking to (Rep.) Deborah Long and Sen. Gregory about the gas tax, so we’re taking it from a legislative perspective, and then whatever funds may come from the sales tax commission,” Pawlyk said. 

“Outside of funding, we need people to focus on doing their daily jobs. We need (SCDOT) maintenance to do their jobs by filling the holes and making the road safer...

“We have our tactical and strategic solutions we’re working on,” she said. “I don’t think we have a choice. Whatever we can do to influence and keep this on our legislators’ radar, that’s what we’re going to do.”


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151