It will be nine years from the time Berkeley County voters approved a seven-year 1 percent sales tax for road improvements until Clements Ferry Road is widened to four lanes in its busiest area.

And with a large amount of growth planned in the area, the widening of about four miles of Clements Ferry, from Interstate 526 to Jack Primus Road, is just the beginning of the project. The 2008 voter-approved referendum only funded the project's first phase, which begins in April.

"Clements Ferry is a dangerous, dangerous road, and it's only going to get worse," said Berkeley County Councilman Tim Callanan.

New neighborhoods, schools and businesses will only add to the daily snarls, he said.

But at the same time the road needs improvement, residents of the area need reassurance they won't have to wait another decade to see some relief.

A second phase of construction is planned to widen Clements Ferry from Jack Primus to S.C. Highway 41, but the project is unfunded, unless a state law is changed to allow Berkeley County voters to decide whether they want to continue the penny tax to pay for road projects.

"(Nine years) is not acceptable," Callanan said. "The people on Clements Ferry Road are going to need assurance that that is not going to be the case in the future. It's important that we get these things moving along in an expeditious fashion or the public's not going to trust us and re-up this referendum. They should understandably not have any confidence right now."

Berkeley County Council on Monday took its first step toward asking voters whether they want to continue paying the tax.

The action was meant to show state lawmakers that county officials support changing a state law that forbids them from putting the question to voters until after the current tax expires.

"This (vote on the ordinance) is actually illegal, but it's just for first reading," Callanan said. "This was really about giving an indication to the Legislature that we want to be able to put this in front of the voters and let them decide. We are coming to the end of a legislative session, and we want to see this thing get a vote one way or the other."

The county's 1 percent tax to fund road projects is set to end in May 2015. By current law, the county cannot ask voters to renew it until 2016, the first general election after the current tax expires. That would leave the projects unfunded for a year at a cost of about $15 million, Supervisor Dan Davis said.

The existing program has been beneficial in improving roads and traffic in the county, officials said. Projects ranged from resurfacing to widening and included projects throughout the county.

A bill introduced in March by Berkeley County Sens. Paul Campbell, Larry Grooms, John Matthews, Yancey McGill and Sean Bennett passed the Senate and was introduced in the House on April 9, in time for the April 15 deadline required for bills to receive normal consideration on the House Floor during the second year of a two-year session. It is now in the Ways and Means Committee.

The new law, which would affect any county with local sales and use taxes or toll revenues, would allow counties to put the tax renewal question to voters during general or special elections.

"I think the Legislature will be out of session before we reach second reading, so if for some reason it doesn't get passed, we will stop with second reading then," Davis said. The issue will come before council again at its next meeting, May 27.

The ordinance was started now because it requires three readings and a public hearing. It has to be passed by August for the county to notify election officials to put the question on the November ballot.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.