An attorney representing Aiken residents who oppose the current Hitchcock Parkway widening proposal said the true cost of the project could “easily exceed” $50 million, despite a June 4 letter from City of Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh asking the S.C. Department of Transportation to make adjustments to drive down the cost from $34.6 million to $31.5 million.
The local residents are represented by Carroll Law Offices, which sent a July 11 letter to lawyers in the City of Aiken and Aiken County, as well as to the SCDOT, denouncing the SCDOT's estimates for completion.
In the letter, the law group referenced a June 4 letter Cavanaugh sent to Aiken County Council Chair Ronnie Young.
In Cavanaugh's letter, he wrote that there is already $26.6 million committed to the project.
SCDOT previously gave the project an estimate of $31.6 million, but spiked the estimate up to $34.6 million back in May.
Cavanaugh requested that SCDOT work to bring the estimate back down and also asked that the $5 million still needed to complete the project come from a fund that goes toward joint projects between the City and County.
The law group wrote it is not feasible to fully fund the expansion project with only the $5 million still requested.
“The $31.5 million prediction articulated in the June 4th letter is unreasonable and not based in current reality,” attorney Dioné C. Carroll wrote. “It would be irresponsible to believe that there will not be more money needed or that the project sponsor will not come to public sources, with hand outstretched, looking for millions more dollars ...”
The law group also wrote that the project has violated environmental laws and has not undergone an environmental-impact statement nor a National Environmental Policy Act evaluation.
“These and other planning, evaluation and implementation defects make the project illegal, in addition to being contrary to sound public policy,” the group added.
The law group took up other issues with the project, including a belief that it would endanger Hitchcock Woods and the endangered species that reside there.
Calls made to Cavanaugh and Young were not returned by deadline Monday.
The letter is the latest in a longtime battle over the expansion, which has caused a rift between residents and local officials who believe the expansion is much-needed and others who believe the current plan is too costly and would be harmful to the environment.
Next up for the Hitchcock Parkway expansion is an update on the conceptual designs for the widening. The update will be given to the S.C. Subcommittee of the Augusta Regional Transportation Study.
The meeting will be held on Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Sandlapper Room on the first floor of the new Aiken County Government Center.
The center is located at 1930 University Parkway. Individuals are asked to park in the building's rear lot and take the elevator down to the first floor.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June 2013. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.