Town Shifts Gears on Penny Tax Projects

Street Repair Priorities Change at Retreat

In an effort to create a more walkable Town Center District in Blythewood, Council is considering fast-tracking a McNulty streetscape, and then doing the same for the section of Blythewood Road that runs through downtown instead of widening it to 5 lanes. In this proposed streetscape, that portion of Blythewood Road would include 9-foot-wide sidewalks, 6-foot-wide tree planters, 8-foot-wide parallel parking space on each side of the road and one lane in each direction with a 12-foot-wide median planted with trees. Proponents on Council say these improvements would be safer and more attractive than the currently proposed five lanes of traffic.

In an effort to create a more walkable Town Center District in Blythewood, Council is considering fast-tracking a McNulty streetscape, and then doing the same for the section of Blythewood Road that runs through downtown instead of widening it to 5 lanes. In this proposed streetscape, that portion of Blythewood Road would include 9-foot-wide sidewalks, 6-foot-wide tree planters, 8-foot-wide parallel parking space on each side of the road and one lane in each direction with a 12-foot-wide median planted with trees. Proponents on Council say these improvements would be safer and more attractive than the currently proposed five lanes of traffic.

BLYTHEWOOD (March 10, 2016) – After having spent the better part of a year planning and prioritizing Blythewood’s Penny Tax road widening and improvements projects that would, in its second phase, turn Blythewood Road into five lanes all the way from I-77 to Main Street, Town Council made an about face at its annual retreat on Saturday, opting instead to put that five-lane section of Blythewood Road on the back burner and upgrade the McNulty Road area with a walkable streetscape. That would include a road with two lanes and a median or a center lane, and then do the same for Blythewood Road but with parallel parking on either side, one lane each way and a landscaped median.

The issue was raised by Town Administrator Gary Parker last week in notes in the agenda packet asking the town government to come to terms with whether they wanted the Town Center to be walkable as provided in the Town’s Master Plan or divided by a high-traffic, five-lane road.

“The Master Plan calls for a walkable Town Center,” Parker told The Voice, “but that plan got set aside for a few years and I think the Council and residents lost sight of it.”

“Businesses like a walkable downtown area,” Parker told Council. “People spend more time looking in store windows and spend more dollars. The difficulty, as I see it, for McNulty and Blythewood roads to be made walkable is their proximity to I-77. Traffic comes off those ramps and into the gas stations and fast food restaurants. That makes walkability difficult.”

The current Penny Tax plan for Blythewood is divided into two phases. The first phase calls for the widening of Blythewood Road from I-77 to Syrup Mill Road. All the other projects are lumped into phase two, and include the McNulty Road and Blythewood Road (from I-77 to Main Street) projects.

But Parker said the Penny Tax program just budgets the dollars for improvement, leaving it up to Council to prioritize the projects.

Councilman Malcolm Gordge said when he recently broached the subject with Bob Perry, Transportation Director of Richland County, Perry seemed amenable to switching the priorities if they are brought to the Penny Tax committee’s attention in a timely manner.

Councilman Tom Utroska said he “would like for us to come up with a plan first and have a public comment meeting before we go to the Penny Tax Committee. And we need to put our plan together and present it before SCDOT (S.C. Department of Transportation) gets started. We need to listen to the people on this. They may say we’re nuts,” Utroska said. “But do we want to be a sleepy, at-ease town? Or do we want to become a thoroughfare? That’s where we’re headed.”

“This would be a wonderful opportunity for McNulty Road,” Mayor J. Michael Ross said, again stressing the importance of having a town hall meeting. “I think that’s the one (McNulty) we could showcase first, as a prototype, to see if it works. People could ride their bicycles and there wouldn’t be the traffic there that would get them killed. McNulty might be the very thing that we would say, let’s do this first and show what it’s like to have parallel parking downtown and it would be manageable.”

“The intent is to brainstorm and not let it drop,” Parker said. “Staff and I need to set down and figure out a schedule on the streetscape. We need to see this through.”