“(RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C.) – A “who’s who” list of Midlands leaders gathered Sept. 19 to commemorate the completion of a Richland County Transportation project that will positively impact thousands of local residents.

Most of the leaders proclaimed the ceremonial opening of the Bluff Road widening project a celebration. “This is a big win in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium, and we have to celebrate those wins when we get them,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “This place is becoming some place special….let’s keep getting it done.”

The $5 million project was funded by the Richland County Transportation Program, SCDOT, and the Richland County Transportation Committee. Bluff Road, between Rosewood Drive and George Rogers Boulevard, was widened to five lanes with bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.

“This project is going to impact more pedestrians than potentially any other project – not just with daily commuters, but with all the events at the fairgrounds and USC football games,” said David Beaty, Richland County Transportation Program manager. “This really represents Richland County’s commitment to improve all modes of transportation.”

This was Phase 1 of the project, designed to increase pedestrian safety and improve traffic flow around the stadium and South Carolina State Fairgrounds. The Richland County Transportation Program collaborated with the State Fair, the City of Columbia, the University of South Carolina and the SCDOT.

The State Fair donated roughly 8 feet of property along Rosewood Drive and Bluff Road for the walkway, the city of Columbia will maintain lighting along the road, and USC coordinated crosswalk locations with the county to ensure pedestrians can cross the roads safely.

“What an impact we have made with this initiative,” University of South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said. Tanner said not only is the area safer for folks walking to the State Fair and Williams-Brice, but it’s aesthetically appealing.
“I’m delighted to have this,” Tanner said.

Tim Wilson, director of facility operations with the S.C. State Fair, saw how the improvements helped with game day traffic during the Gamecocks sold-out home opener versus Kentucky.
“The traffic was never really bogged down,” Wilson said. “The traffic was flowing smoothly. And the sidewalks really helped.”

State Fair manager Gary Goodman watched the construction and was impressed with the project even while it was ongoing. “There were a tremendous amount of things we had to overcome,” Goodman said. “This enhances the area, makes safer for people to get places. And these improvements aren’t just being used for the Fair and football games….it’s a phenomenal accomplishment.”

Cherokee Construction completed Phase 1, after beginning the project in Nov. 2016. Other equally functional but less noticeable improvements include a storm water run-off drainage system and the relocation of several overhead utilities underground. “This is an example of so many different things,” Richland County councilman Jim Manning said. “We have the wide sidewalks that are separated from the road, the road improvements, the intersection improvements…it’s just a model project and I know the citizens are as proud as punch.”

Vice chairman of the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission, John Hardee, said the project was a great example of all entities coming together. “I’m very excited about all the people coming together and working together. They all came together and we’re here today to celebrate. “Any day we can get together to celebrate a transportation project that makes the lives of our citizens better is a good day.” Hardee called the ribbon cutting a celebration because of the safety improvements made for pedestrians who live, work, play and visit the area.

Richland County councilwoman Delhi Myers called the Bluff Road widening one of the bigger penny program projects to date. “We’re pretty excited to be moving forward with this project,” she said. “We look forward to the rest of the project.” Myers remembers arriving near the area of the Sept. 19 ribbon cutting as a child on her way to the S.C. State Fair. She remembers her excitement as she got closer to the ferris wheel and excitement of the fair. And she remembers having to wait a long time as cars inched toward the gates of the fairgrounds as they neared. “Now I hope that little girls riding to the fair might be able to get there a hair earlier,” Myers said.

Construction on the second phase of the project, from National Guard Road to South Beltline Boulevard, is expected to begin in 2018. The project ultimately will expand the road from Rosewood Drive to Interstate-77 and will include a center turn lane with pedestrian and bike paths as well as enhanced lighting.”

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Brittany Grabski