Lexington Traffic Circle Nixed By SCDOT

 

The Town of Lexington’s proposal to build a traffic circle at the intersection of Columbia Ave/378 and Lake Drive has been rejected by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT).

 

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Intended to ease the growing flow of traffic onto and through Sunset Blvd and Lake Dr. that serves over 40,000 vehicles per day, the Town’s concept was a round-about at the intersection that included re-routing Dreher Street’s access to Lake Drive.

 

Although the Town is responsible for paying for and maintaining such improvements, SCDOT must approve them.  This was pointed out to citizens when the tax was introduced.  There were some who complained about the idea of a traffic circle/round-about at that location, but council members explained that it was only a concept that had to be studied and approved by the state.  That is exactly what happened.

SCDOT determined that, over time, the concept provided by the Town of Lexington would not sufficiently handle growing traffic volumes.  To make a circle/round-about work would require increasing the footprint of the construction which would necessitate the Town’s acquisition of private property (eminent domain).   According to a source familiar with the project, the Town will restudy plans and submit new ideas to SCDOT for approval.  

The proposal, along with two other intersection improvements was/are to be paid for by a 2% “hospitality tax” instituted by Town Council last year.  

The source did not say if there have been any changes to the two other projects.  These include the conversion of SC 6 (North/South Lake Drive) and North/South Church Street (S-32-91) into one-way street operation and upgrade the intersection of East Main Street at Harmon Street and Martel Drive and improving traffic flow through the Corley Mill Road and US 378 intersection which serves as the primary Gateway to the Town.

SCDOT has decided, however, that the Dreher Street/Harmon Street redirection will still be constructed to improve traffic flow and safety.

 

PAC Demands Stupid Promises

The regressive Palmetto Liberty PAC is appealing to voters (and soliciting funds) by using candidate responses to a bizarre survey.   In an email to followers, the subsidiary to out-of-state special interests tries to paint certain candidates as untrustworthy because they refused to promise not to vote for new taxes.  Although that sounds reasonable at first blush, such promises would be the sign of a candidate dedicated to poor governance. Continue reading “PAC Demands Stupid Promises”

Pitiful Politics, Taxes and Lies

No one is happy about the 2% hospitality tax the Town of Lexington is proposing to pay for necessary intersection improvements.  Citizens aren’t happy, some businesses aren’t happy and the Town Council isn’t happy.  The Council, at least, is being adult in its presentation of the issue.  That can’t be said for the opposition.

At yesterday’s Town Council meeting, several citizens joined Councilman Ted Stambolitis in voicing their disfavor.  Stambolitis is the only member of the Council not voting to enact the tax.  More on him will come in a later post.  This writer spoke, not so much in favor of the tax, but in favor of the plan as the only means by which a critical problem can be addressed.  That position isn’t the only thing that separated me from the other citizen speakers.  Most of those opposing – and they opposed everything about the plan – are not even citizens of the Town of Lexington.  Why does that matter?

As I said from the podium, in the debate this past session in the General Assembly concerning an increased gas tax, South Carolinians would not have appreciated people from North Carolina or Virginia or New York making demands about out tax system.   This is no different.  The Town is trying to upgrade intersections that are used by far many more people than live within town limits.  They want Lexington’s roadways optimized for their use, but they don’t want to have to pay for it.

That’s hardly the whole of it.  There is an organization that calls itself the Lexington County Citizen’s Watch that is campaigning against the hospitality tax.  That’s OK, except…

The LCCW is run by Mr. Talbert Black – again, not a resident of the Town of Lexington.  Today (Tuesday), the Watch posted an item on Facebook that was as misleading as it is cowardly.  The post highlighted two council members, Kathy Manness and Hazel Livingston (also Mayor pro tem) with their phone numbers and email addresses.  That, too is OK.  All of that is publicly available on the town website.

What is so … dirty about the post is that LCCW mocked these two council members because they “Said they were voting for the tax to ‘keep us safe.'”

Taxes pay for our military, our police, our fire fighters and scores of other entities that “keep us safe.”  More efficient traffic flow makes it much easier for emergency services and first responders to get to and from catastrophes, accident scenes, fires and medical calamities. Traffic issues ARE safety issues.  That cannot be denied by reasonable, logical thinking adults.  Which, I guess, is why it eludes the folks at LCCW.

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This is the image posted on Facebook by the Lexington County Citizen’s Watch

Here, though, is the cowardly part.  All of the council members voting for the tax have noted that safety is a concern, a major concern.  Yet, LCCW chose not to identify the other four, all men, but just the women. Nor did they call out Mr. Britt Poole, the Town Administrator who also cites safety as a reason to upgrade.

Do these folks think they are going to intimidate Ms. Manness or Ms. Livingston because they are women?  Ms. Manness I do not know, Ms. Livingston I do.  Here’s a tip to LCCW: Don’t piss off Hazel Livingston.  Seriously … don’t piss her off.  This isn’t to suggest she is vengeful, it’s just to point out that she isn’t gonna take your crap.

As for Council Member Stambolitis, I recommend the LCCW and citizens who are looking to him as their anti-tax champion; look elsewhere.  He isn’t what you think.

More on that later.

Lexington: Roads, Taxes and Ignorance

By now, many Lexington residents are aware of the Town Council’s proposal to impose a 2% hospitality tax to fund improvements to three critical intersections.  In addition to newspaper articles and television pieces, the Council held an “educational” meeting on Monday to formally introduce the plan and to get comments and answer questions from the public.

As to be expected, there was opposition to the idea of raising the money through a tax – a vile word to quite a few people.  Truly, taxes are as unwelcome to the citizenry as they are necessary to governing bodies.  A tax is money from voter’s pockets to the general population treasury with the ideal intent to pay for necessary services and infrastructure to benefit everyone.  Politicians are notoriously distrusted with the peoples’ money for well-established historical reasons; too often the money has been misspent or used to fund items that benefit the politicians or their cronies.  Voters feel the need to first be suspicious and then carefully scrutinize the spending of tax dollars.

The Lexington Town Council can impose the tax without public debate or scrutiny if they wish.  Approval or referendum is not legally required.  But to this Council, it is morally necessary to shine as much light on the plan, the proceedings and the intent as possible.

Still, there are those who elect to be uninformed about how city government works and the nuances that have such a huge impact on running a municipality.  So it is with the opposition to the hospitality tax.

Among the faux arguments made against the tax is the contention that “the town has plenty of money to do this, so they don’t need to raise taxes.”

The Town Council cut around $600,000 this year in order to balance the budget.  Further, Lexington owes $2 million for property the previous council bought, payment of which will take several years.  Where is this phantom money?

Another whine has been “It’s going to be disruptive!  Traffic from I-20 to town will be two hours (direct quote).  Why do all the intersections at once?  Why not spread it out sequentially?

So, make it an eight year project?  Ten?  There will be inconvenience, sure, but if temporary disturbance is going to be avoided, NO new construction, improvements or innovation will ever occur.  I’ve driven I-95 more often than most people, going back to before it was completed between South Carolina and Baltimore.  I remember the detours around/through places like Wilson, NC and the bottlenecks when the roadway squeezed from four lanes to two.  But the result was worth the disruption.  It’s a consequence of progress.

As is usual, complainers are notoriously uninformed and void of alternatives.

On WLTX Mr. Wes Howard said this about the tax:

“Nobody wants our taxes raised. I want our roads fixed. I don’t want our taxes raised and I don’t think we need to raise our taxes. My thinking is, ‘Why not let the citizens talk about it. Let’s take six months. Figure it out. Get more input from the town,’ I would like to see a bypass. Plain and simple.”

There are several things about this quote that are  laughable.  “I want our roads fixed. I don’t want our taxes raised…”  In other words, I want things, but I don’t want to pay for them.  That’s kinda like welfare; people want the government to give them stuff, but they don’t want to work for it.

Then there’s “‘Why not let the citizens talk about it. Let’s take six months. Figure it out. Get more input from the town.” To what end?  Does Mr. Howard believe the Council just came up with this idea over lunch one day?  There have already been months of work put in on this, not just by the Council and Town Administrator, but by engineers and professional planners.  And what is expected to be achieved in six months?  Will the traffic problems fix themselves by February?  Will money that currently is unavailable suddenly appear in the Town treasury?  As for “talking about it,” that’s what’s being done now and will be done in three more public sessions the Council will hold.

And then, my favorite: “I would like to see a bypass. Plain and simple.”  Bless his heart, Mr. Howard is either fiscally inattentive or geographically … uninformed.  A bypass?  There is so much wrong with this idea maybe Mr. Howard should take six months and figure out why.

Take a look. Click for larger image.
Take a look. Click for larger image.

The town can only conduct roadwork within city limits, so any viable bypass plan (and there is none) would have to involve county, state and even SCE&G property.

Then, there is the cost.  The three proposed intersections are estimated to cost about $16 million.  To build a bypass would cost probably 50 to 100 times that.  Why?  It would involve new road construction whereas the current plan is just intersection improvement with the exception of one small side street relocation.  Then, there would be the astronomical right-of-way and easement costs, minimal in the proposal now being offered.  The engineering, survey and other pre-construction costs would also be exorbitant.  What kind of tax increase would this require, or does Mr. Howard think it would be free?

But, the most destructive argument against the Wes Howard Bypass is where it would go.   Any such “bypass” would mean taking out whole or parts of neighborhoods and businesses and, of course, “bypassing” other businesses that would lose customers.

Also, no small consideration is the topography of Lexington.  There is a LOT of water in this town; streams, creeks and ponds are scattered throughout the municipality.  In quite a few cases, these wetlands have curtailed development because of either environmental laws or just laws of physics.  If, for whatever reason, a house can’t be built on or near these properties, how can one expect a highway to be constructed?

Mr. Howard can be forgiven for being unaware/uninformed, but one of the council members cannot be excused.  Councilman Ted Stambolitis voiced his opposition to the tax wih reasoning that is curious at best and deceiving in the whole.  He insisted there were other ways by which the town can raise the necessary revenue, specifically “by getting our fair share of gas taxes.  Those are owed to us and we should get them.”

First, it should be noted that Mr. Stambolitis is a restaurateur.  He was asked if the tax would impact his business and he responded, curiously, that he hasn’t looked into that.  One would think a successful businessman would have run the numbers.  I’ll take him at his word.  However, on the gas and “other” tax contentions, neither I, nor anyone else, should take his word.  That’s because he is wrong and he should know better.

According to Mr. Britt Poole, Town Administrator:

“Gas tax is collected by the State and Federal Government the Town does not get any revenue from that source.”

What about other taxes? Again from Mr. Poole:

“Municipality taxation avenues are limited. We can have property tax but are only allowed to increase it by a few percent each year.  We have not raised property tax in 28 years. We can and do have an Accommodation Tax (on hotel stays) it generates little over $100K per year. Those are our options.”

The lack of options was mentioned during the presentation at the town meeting and Mr. Poole and members of the Council were available to elaborate.  Yet Mr. Stambolitis, a member of the Council for eleven years, was either unaware of this very critical and salient point, or he chose to not just ignore it, but to be deceitful about it.  Why?

Another comment from Mr. Stambolitis fails to meet the smell test.  He told Lake and Main that he’s had a couple of emails from people who say they will not dine in Lexington if the tax is enacted.  It’s not that there is doubt he got such emails, but that people will actually choose to boycott Lexington eating establishments (including Mr. Stambolitis’).

Where will these protesters eat?  Not Richland County (including, of course, Harbison, the Vista and Riverbanks Zoo), not West Columbia or Cayce because they all impose a hospitality tax on prepared foods.  They will spend more money on gasoline to go to other places to avoid paying 16 cents extra for a Big Mac combo.

Taxes aren’t pretty, and instituting them is uglier still.  The Lexington Town Council should be applauded for their thorough and open approach to correcting a major problem.  They are being transparent, they are listening to the public (though they don’t have to), and they are being methodical.

They are being responsible.

Good on ‘em!