The Southern Connector was a major public-private joint partnership that provides an alternative interstate route around Greenville, SC, and an alternative commuter route into the downtown.
Project Type:Connector Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:7,200 Length (mi):16.00
Economic Distress:1.20 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):527 Population Growth Rate (%):1.52
Employment Growth Rate (%):1.14 Market Size:322,927 Airport Travel Distance:15.6167 Topography:20
Region:Southeast State:SC County:Greenville
City:Greenville Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:N/A
Impact Area:County Transportation System:Highway GIS Lat/Long:34.727793 / -82.405808
Initial Study Date:1997 Post Constr. Study Date:2006
Constr. Start Date:1998 Constr. End Date:2001
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2001 Planned Cost (YOE $):N/A
Actual Cost (YOE $):190,000,000 Actual Cost (curr $):249,925,635
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
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NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
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The Southern Connector was a major public-private joint partnership that used creative financing to provide an alternative interstate route around Greenville, SC and commuter route into the downtown, and to open-up rural farmland for industrial development. The Connector was thoughtfully conceived between the public and private sectors to facilitate innovative industrial and commercial development. However, collapse of the dot.com industry at the time of the Connector's opening in 2001 severely constrained the venture capital investment market and subsequent industrial expansion in the Upstate Region of SC. For these reasons, traffic volumes have not matched forecasts, and have not generated the level of forecasted toll revenues necessary to meet the project's debt obligations. The project had no discernible impacts in the study area. Nonetheless, the Connector is still viewed as a major component to the region's future growth potential.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
Located just south of Greenville, SC, the Southern Connector provides a partial ring road around the southern portion of the city, and is located entirely within Greenville County. The connector is a four-lane, fully controlled-access tolled highway spanning 16 miles, and is designated as I-185-Toll. The northwestern terminus connects to I-85, with westbound connection to Atlanta and eastbound connections past Greenville and on to Charlotte, NC. North of I-85, the expressway continues for three miles as an un-tolled or ?free? I-185, which flows into downtown Greenville. At the southeast terminus, the Connector connects to I-385 (between Mauldin and Simpsonville) with southbound connections to I-26 and Charleston, SC. Northeast of the I-385 connection, the expressway turns into an un-tolled I-385 facility. About eight miles north, the facility interchanges with I-85 (with east/west connections) before flowing into downtown Greenville.
The Southern Connector enhanced a partial ring-road concept around the southern portion of the Greenville metro area. It also provides through traffic (especially traffic to/from Columbia, SC and Charleston, SC) with an interstate alternative to the congested I-85.
In addition to the two interchanges at the Connector's termini (with I-85 and I-385), four other interchanges provide access to local feeder roads, including US 25 and SC 20. These feeder roads provide access to thousands of undeveloped acres slotted primarily for industrial, commercial and residential development.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
Over the past thirty years, Greenville County transformed from the textile capital of the world to a headquarters, manufacturing, and warehousing center. Greenville is also known for its high-technology manufacturing and engineering. As South Carolina's most populous county, Greenville is located in the northwestern corner of the state and is part of one of the nation's fastest growing areas "the I-85 Corridor" between Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC. The Port of Charleston is 200 miles to the southeast via I-26, and the Blue Ridge Mountains are just 15 minutes away. The Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport serves the metropolitan area.
A unique blend of southern traditions, international influences, rolling hills, and majestic mountains provide quality-of-life benefits that help attract major investments, such as BMW automobile manufacturing, that drive the local economy. The Connector was seen as a necessary investment to accommodate the next wave of industrial and, to a lesser extent, residential development.
Since the year 2000 and the opening of the Southern Connector, population in Greenville County rose 15.4%, from 379,600 to 438,100. This notable historical growth and total population leads the overall Upstate Region, which grew 9.4%, to 1.3 million people from 1.2 million, representing a third of the State's population.
The Southern Connector is designed to interstate standards with a 70 mile-per-hour (mph) design speed and includes six interchanges, several bridges, an above-grade rail crossing, two toll plazas, and an administrative building. The facility is officially designated as Interstate 85 Toll. Three central project objectives included:
The Southern Connector was constructed as a public-private partnership between the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and Interwest Carolina Transportation Group, LLC, a development team that included a not-for-profit corporation called Connector 2000 Association, Inc. (C2A). C2A operates the toll road under a fifty-year license. It is responsible for financing, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining the road during this period. Since the project was deemed "public in nature", the C2A was able to sell tax-exempt bonds to finance the project. The highway opened in February 2001, nine months ahead of schedule.
By 2007, C2A had financial difficulties because ridership on the toll road was not meeting original estimates. In the fall of 2007, it began looking for a concessionaire to take over the operations and financial liability of the toll road. By early 2008, C2A received a default notice from their lender and the SCDOT announced that it was more than $5 million behind in its payments for the maintenance and license fees under their agreement.
Currently, the road is owned by the SCDOT. Tolls are used to repay the bonds (which financed facility development) and to maintain the facility. Such operations and maintenance include snow removal and grass cutting. No tax dollars are used to support or operate the facility.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
The Southern Connector saves an estimated 10-15 minutes of through-traffic travel time from the I-385/I-185 interchange south of Greenville to the I-85/I-185 interchange west of Greenville. Nonetheless, the Southern Connector has not generated the level of traffic volume forecasted in the traffic and revenue analyses. For the year 2008, average annual daily traffic (AADT) volumes were forecasted to range between a low of 9,000 to a high of 16,100 along the Connector. Actual counts were much less, ranging between a low of 6,800 and a high of 7,600. Comparatively, actual AADT on the un-tolled segment of I-185 (north of I-85 towards downtown Greenville) were notably higher, ranging from a low of 9,900 to a high of 16,500. Further, AADT east of the Connector on I-385, the main north-south route from I-26 ranged between 50,100 and 89,500. Note that the high volumes on I-385 compared to the I-185 reflect the north-south orientation of the expressway, which accommodates traffic headed to downtown Greenville and the northeast via I-85.
Much of the land in the vicinity of the highway interchanges is controlled by developers committed to selective major investments that provide long-term, innovative employment. However, with the recent economic downturn, there have been limited opportunities for land sale or lease for small scale development, such as gas stations/convenient stores, auto-repair, small manufacturing (10-15 employees) in the vicinity of interchanges.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
Currently no major economic development can be attributable to the Southern Connector. While a few minor firms have developed facilities in the major industrial areas, the employment levels are at a fraction of those envisioned by project leaders. Further, attribution of their location to the Connector could well be argued since they are also situated close to I-85. Nonetheless, the Connector is still viewed as a major component to the region's future growth potential.
Since the Connector's opening in 2001, large scale innovative industrial investment has been sparse in South Carolina, especially in the Upstate Region. Planned and developed in the late 1990's, the Connector opened shortly after the dot.com collapse, which temporarily curtailed speculative interest in the region.
Subsequently, some minor developments have emerged, but not near the magnitude expected. Currently, three interchanges (Exits 7, 10, 12) provide the best access to the development properties; however, each interchange has some limitations that constrain development.
Exit 7 provides direct access (one-mile) to the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC, formerly "Donaldson Center Industrial Air Park") via US 25 (a five-lane major arterial). SCTAC's 2,600 acres are home to more than 80 technologically-advanced companies, including global industry leaders like Michelin, Lockheed Martin, and 3M. The park is equipped with an 8,000-foot concrete runway, as well as two rail spurs, and is recognized as a major aircraft maintenance and modification center. While most of these lands were developed prior to the introduction of the Southern Connector, several hundred acres are available across the highway (US 25). However, limited water and sewer facilities limit development potential. The county plans to upgrade the facilities at Grove Creek Station to ensure sufficient capacity for future development.
Exit 10 also provides direct access to hundreds of developable acres via a five-lane major arterial (SC 20). However, a rail-line runs parallel to the highway without nearby crossings, which seriously constrains parcel attractiveness. Reportedly, the rail line owners (CSX) will not grant crossing rights without an offsetting closure elsewhere in the county. Although this is the best access to a major share of the available land, alternative access is being developed via the next Connector interchange, Exit 12, via SC 153.
Exit 12 provides access to SC 153/Brown Road, and also plays a notable role in future overall regional development due to its I-85 connectivity one mile north of the Connector. Currently a two-lane highway that crosses the Saluda River west of the Connector is planned for widening to three lanes (maximum bridge width) with improved shoulders to help facilitate truck traffic. North of the western toll plaza, Exit 12 also offers northbound Connector traffic a non-tolled segment that reaches downtown Greenville in eight minutes.
In addition to commercial and industrial development, the Connector is also beginning to exhibit signs of facilitating residential development southwest of the expressway. High-end, mixed-use residential development at Acadia is beginning on land sloping down towards the Saluda River. With approximately 150 acres available, 20-25 single family homes have been built thus far. To help facilitate such growth, the County is partnering with the Acadia developers through the development of water/sewer and gas lines, and the partial relocation of a road.
The collapse of the dot-com bubble just as the Southern Connector opened stifled venture capitalism. This seriously curtailed major industry investment, which is the foundation of the public and private development plans along the Southern Connector. While several notable investors such as Duke Power, Phillip Morris, Toyoda (a division of Toyota), and others continue to explore the region, major investment has not yet materialized. The recent near collapse of the banking sector, the 2008-2009 recession, and subsequent double-digit unemployment in South Carolina further constrain high-end development along the Connector in the short-term. Nonetheless, the county and the private investors remain committed to recruiting the appropriate firms to lead the next wave of Upstate development. In doing so, the public and private sectors are partnering to upgrade local road, water and sewer infrastructure to attract potential investment. For these reasons, the economic development potential associated with the Connector remains high.
Greenville County Government, Planning Dept.
Coldwell Banker Kane, Former President
Deputy Secretary of Finance & Administration (CFO)
Case Study Developed by Wilbur Smith Associates