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Leaders push to finish airport connector


Staff Report
Published Dec. 10, 2012

Area officials have renewed efforts for funding a 3.2-mile extension of the John Hardee Expressway, linking cargo operations at Columbia Metropolitan Airport to Interstate 26.

The State Transportation Commission approved a request of local leaders to allow the project to be possibly funded from a 1-cent sales tax hike proposed for Lexington County.

The commission had included the connector project as part of a $344 million bond package to fund five highway projects around the state.

“We were all very pleased the commission unbundled the five bond projects so each could stand on their own merit,” said Randy Halfacre, mayor of the town of Lexington and chairman of the MidState Chambers Coalition Commission.

The $76.8 million project would open up 100 acres of airport property for development and offer direct access for cargo carriers like UPS and FedEx to distribution centers near the interchange of interstates 26 and 77.

The first phase of the Hardee expressway, connecting Airport Boulevard and Platt Springs Road, was completed in 2004. Finding money to extend the route from the airport’s entrance to the interstate has been a struggle.

Completion of the expressway would improve traffic flow around the airport junction and connect the airport to industrial parks near interstates 77 and 26, according to documents filed by the Central Midlands Council of Governments.

The route would connect the airport to the $313 million manufacturing facility that Nephron Pharmaceuticals is building as well as Amazon’s 1.25 million-square-foot fulfillment center at Saxe Gotha Industrial Park.

Amazon is a major UPS customer, the shipping company said.

When Atlanta-based UPS announced in 1994 it was building a regional hub at Columbia, local officials promised that the Hardee Expressway would connect the airport to the interstate, Halfacre said.

“Historically, the commitment to build the connector was part of the negotiations and promise given to UPS,” officials said in a letter to the commission.

For UPS, the second phase of the connector could save $500,000 a year in fuel and labor costs, according to studies.

Central Midlands already has approved $13.7 million in support of the project.

Including the first phase of the expressway, more than $41.7 million has been spent on the project. Phase II is estimated to cost $76.8 million, leaving a remainder of $63.1 million to be funded.

Officials say the project is “shovel-ready” and would be a boon to future regional growth as an industrial and distribution hub in South Carolina.

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