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County chairman talks utilizing CPST funds for Whiskey Road upgrades

October 30, 2018 GMT

If Aiken County voters approve Capital Project Sales Tax IV during the Nov. 6 general election, millions of dollars from the proceeds would be used to make improvements to Whiskey Road.

Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker discussed the plans for the upgrades on one of the busiest local thoroughfares during the Rotary Club of Aiken’s meeting at Newberry Hall on Monday.

“We have $9 million from the county allocated, we have $8 million from the city of Aiken allocated and we think we can scrape up $3 million from other sources to provide a total of $20 million to help the Whiskey Road situation,” Bunker said.

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He then talked about two strategies the county and the city of Aiken have for using the money, which he called the “big solution” and the “small solution.”

The “big solution” would be for the $20 million to provide “skin in the game to help get a big grant” from the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank, Bunker said.

The additional Infrastructure Bank funds, he continued, would allow the county and the city of Aiken to complete an approximately $120 million project “to rework the drainage first, then rework the roadway and then do all the connector roads and other improvements, from the work on Dougherty Road to the Whiskey Road-Powderhouse Road Connector.”

If that strategy fails, the “small solution” would be to use all of the $20 million to deal with the drainage issues.

“It doesn’t make any sense to do the roadway work first until we do the drainage,” Bunker said. “With the $20 million, we think we actually have the ability to acquire the property we need, or to condemn it if needed, and to put in the drainage improvements.”

Bunker also reported on the preparations that the county is making to proceed with the Whiskey Road upgrades.

He said county officials are confident that voters will approve Capital Project Sales Tax IV, so “we are starting the process to do the design on this. We actually have engaged an engineering firm to work on Whiskey Road drainage.”

Bunker answered questions from the audience after his presentation. One person wanted to know if the Whiskey Road project would be “as messy” as the one currently underway to upgrade Silver Bluff Road.

There have been many delays on Silver Bluff because of utility relocation issues and other problems. The South Carolina Department of Transportation, or SCDOT, and its contractor, Eagle Construction Co. of Newberry, have received numerous complaints.

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“I think the lesson that we’re getting from following the Silver Bluff Road saga is one of not having all the key players at the table together to understand what utilities have to move, when they have to be moved and the need to have it all coordinated ahead of time,” Bunker said. “We’re hoping to have Aiken County do a lot more of the management up front so it’s not fully in SCDOT’s lap.”

Levies such as Capital Project Sales Tax IV, or CPST IV, are commonly known as 1-cent, 1 percent or penny local option sales taxes.

CPST IV is expected to generate more than $160 million during a seven-year collection period that would begin May 1, 2019 and end April 30, 2026.

The money would be divided among Aiken County, the city of Aiken, the city of North Augusta and eight smaller municipalities: Burnettown, Jackson, Monetta, New Ellenton, Perry, Salley, Wagener and Windsor.

Those entities would use the funds to pay for projects and purchases that have “a long life span and a significant dollar value,” Bunker told the Aiken Standard during a previous interview.

Examples include the construction of buildings, the paving or resurfacing of roads and the purchase of vehicles for first responders.