SOUTH CAROLINA:Greenville's Southern Connector pike opens
By Peter Samuel
The $190m road ($100m was construction, the rest land, design, capitalized interest, fees etc) represents about 40% of a circular route made up of I-385 on the north and east and I-185 to the northwest. The toll road takes I-185 south of I-85, the major east-west route through the Greenville area, and provides a route around the southern and western sides of the metro area. It has interchanges at I-85 at its northwestern end and at I-385 at its eastern end and four intermediate interchanges. It relieves congestion on I-85 and other lesser east-west roads and provides access to fringe area developments including a large Donaldson Center Industrial Park.
Average daily traffic is projected by the developers as 28k in the first year rising to 37k in 2015.
The road developers did a major waterway cleanup and enhancement as a deal to mitigate road impacts. This involved 3km (9300') of kudzu eradication, debris removal, beaver suppression and stream bank revegetation on Long Creek.
The project also got an architectural award from the American Institute of Architects for the quality of its design. Terry Cope president of the AIA called it striking architecture.
Construction was a design-build contract with Thrift Brothers Construction company. A laborer was killed by a grader in the summer of 2000, but otherwise the project was uneventful. Bob Farris, a former head of the Federal Highway Administration is president of Interwest, the developer. Interwest helped establish a local not-for-profit, Connector 2000 Association (C2A) which holds the operating franchise. It issued bonds to finance the construction and will manage the road, and collect tolls. It pays the developer Interwest a fee for its work in bringing the project to fruition.
Interwest also has a 4 year operations contract to collect tolls and conduct other aspects of operations on behalf of the owner.
Buck Limehouse chairman of the state highway commission was a strong supporter of the project from its inception.
Eight interchanges and bridges have been named after prominent local people.
The road has a website www.southernconnector.com with breezy stuff like this on the toll: Yes theres a cost for convenience, but its cheaper than blood pressure medicine. And: Its the first highway (in the area) thats actually designed to get you where youre going, faster.
Screwed up toll calculator
The website has an annoying and cumbersome toll rate calculator which also seems to get some of the tolls wrong. Another brilliant dotcom achievement! Quicker and easier to understand, and more difficult to mess up, would be a simple diagrammatic map showing the tolls charged at each toll point!
There are two mainline barrier plazas and ramp plazas. Tolls vary between 50c and 75c for a 2-axle vehicle doing a single leg or two legs to $1.25 for three legs and $1.50 for the full four legs of the road. 3 -axle vehicle tolls are $1.50, $2.00, $3.00. Tractor-trailers pay $2.50, $3.00, $5.00. There are five classes of vehicles, classified by axle count. But the ramp tolls do without the expense of vehicle classification and are a flat rate for all classes.
Toll rates seem to be around the standard 8 to 10c/mi for Class 1 vehicles.
The Southern Connector has an electronic toll system from Mark IV, technically compatible with the huge E-ZPass system. It is called the Palmetto Pass (often abbreviated to Pal Pass) with dedicated lanes posted for 45mph. Quarterly statements are mailed free and monthly statements cost $2. The toll roads developer Interwest has a four year operations contract with the Connector 2000 not-for-profit, which did the financing and owns the road. On the mainline the speed limit is 65mph.
HISTORY: A Southern Connector roadway was on the transport plans for the Greenville area going back to 1967. Local representatives got $7m for preliminary engineering, environmental and right of way studies from the US Govt in 1991. A local transport committee suggested it be toll-financed in 1993 and an official area study identified the preferred route in 1995. The SCDOT called for investor proposals to build the road the same year. Major contenders for the franchise were Interwest and Fluor Daniel/Morrison Knudsen. Interwest was selected in 1996. Opponents of the road mounted legal challenges and the group got terrible publicity in 1997 based on the bankruptcy of a Arizona water project developed by the then principal of the group Dick Carr. Carr departed the group. The toll roads opponents lost in the courts, and ground was broken late Feb 1998 for completion 2001.
The road is formally named the Buck Mickel Memorial Southern Connector. Mickel who died in 1998 was a prominent Greenville businessman and founder of Daniel construction which became part of Flour Daniel. (Contact Joan Peters CEO Southern Connector Assoc 864 232 1037, Grant Holland, Interwest 602 625 8688, www.southernconnector.com)