Soon, cars and trucks driving down Mt. Pilgrim Church Road will no longer kick up dust during a hot, dry spell or trudge through mud holes after a hard rain.
A new road sign posted on the street explains why. Even without the words, the image of a shiny penny says it all.
Progress, measured one penny and one project at a time, has arrived to the stretch of dirt and gravel in State Park Acres and to other similar unpaved roads around the County. Some 29 roads will be paved this year with nearly $2.9 million as part of the Transportation Penny Program. These projects, supplemented with other monies, mark the first construction projects funded by the tax that went into effect last May.
County officials, neighborhood residents and others gathered Thursday for the official groundbreaking of the County's dirt road paving program and the kick-off what is expected to be a summer busy with the noise of construction trucks and road crews. Under the shade of a big, white tent on the grounds of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in northern Richland County, several Council members expressed gratitude for the improved quality of life a paved road will bring to many residents.
“We have citizens who have waited over 30 years to have their dirt roads paved,” said Richland County Council Chair Norman Jackson, District 11.
The County plans to spend $45 million in dirt-road paving over the next several years to address more than 230 miles of unpaved roads.
“I’m so happy … that you’re here to help us,” said Robert Henry, a resident of State Park Acres where Mt. Pilgrim Church Road is located, who thanked County officials for helping to “make this community a first-class community with proper and decent roads for our citizens to travel and enjoy.”
When Gail Turner moved into State Park Acres a few years ago, she said she didn’t realize “this dirt road would become a vital part of my entering and exiting this neighborhood.” She and other residents formed a committee to discuss what needed to be done to get the road paved.
“Today is a good day,” she said. “We are finally seeing this become a reality.”
Holt Chetwood, Chair of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber backed the penny tax because roads and infrastructure are a core function of government.
“In order to support economic development in our community, in order to support the companies that have chosen to locate here … it is critical that they have a good infrastructure – road and bridge system – on which to drive their trucks, on which their employees can drive to work, on which they can move goods and materials.”
After a ceremonial turning of the soil, Councilman Kelvin Washington, District 10, recounted a story of how a rain-drenched dirt road impeded emergency medical assistance for a resident. The emergency vehicles could not travel the road and a gurney had to be taken by foot to the resident’s house.
“It’s been a long journey to get to this point,” he said of the passage of the penny tax and the start of the dirt road paving program. “Help is on the way.”
By the way, that sign posted on Mt. Pilgrim Church Road and others like it; that sign that soon will be seen on a variety of construction projects; that sign that tells residents their tax dollars are at work; that sign simply states: This Project Funded By The Richland County Transportation Penny.
And more just like it are coming – soon.