On a gray, overcast afternoon, Diane Wiley pictured the flowers that will be planted in the present-day mud alongside the new sidewalk on Windover Street, brightening the journey for commuters and schoolchildren from Two Notch Road to Belvedere Drive.
“People getting off the bus and walking home, they don’t have to walk in the street,” said Wiley, Belvedere neighborhood president, as people waited at the bus stop and traffic whooshed by at Windover and Two Notch. “The ones that are wheelchair-bound, they can get back and forth. And it beautifies the neighborhood.”
Wiley joined Richland County Council Chairman Torrey Rush and Central Midlands Transit (Comet) Executive Director Robert Schneider for today’s ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the sidewalk. Constructed at a cost of nearly $40,000, it is the first of eight sidewalks planned for 2016 to be financed by the Richland County Transportation Penny program, a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax passed in 2012 and designed to raise more than $1 billion in a 20-year period to finance public transportation initiatives.
The corner bus stop, route 16, is the third-busiest route in the system, with nearly 16,000 passengers per month, according to the Comet. Before the 5-foot-wide, 254-foot long sidewalk, constructed by Armstrong Contractors LLC, was built, those passengers had to navigate a difficult and potentially dangerous path mere steps from one the city’s busiest roads.
“In a neighborhood like this, safe access to your transit corridor is mission critical,” Schneider said. “This is Two Notch Road, one of the busiest in the region. So why wouldn’t you want to connect a neighborhood directly with that? This is a nice long sidewalk. It’s great for persons with disabilities, seniors, (or) parents with strollers that just simply want to access one of the major thoroughfares of the community.”
Rush said the sidewalk project demonstrates to citizens that Transportation Penny money is being well-spent. The S.C. Department of Revenue decided in late April to withhold allocations of penny tax proceeds because it said the Richland County Council has not implemented a “common uniform standard” to ensure that the money is being spent solely on transportation projects.
The County Council countered that the Revenue Department hasn’t proven it has the authority to withhold those funds, and on May 2 voted to take whatever action was necessary to defend the program – possibly signaling a legal showdown.
“I think we may be moving in that direction,” Rush said today. “It’s just a matter of interpretation of the law and where the authority is. If we can get that question answered and allow the courts to answer that question, I think that that will set the bar for everyone involved.”
Today’s focus was on a neighborhood, not a potential courtroom. As buses wheezed to a stop and car honks honked, Belvedere residents examined the new sidewalk.
“It makes such an impact on a community and makes it so much more livable,” Schneider said. “It’s a great neighborhood, one of Columbia’s historic neighborhoods, so to continue to have development in an area like this is fantastic.”
The bus stop is scheduled to receive new benches, funded by the penny tax, later this year.
“It’s important that we try to continue to gain the trust of the public, to let them know that these projects are being done, and within budget and on time,” Rush said. “… You just want to make sure that you protect the taxpayers’ dollars and protect the mission of this penny sales tax program.”