By Hannah Dockery
The proposed “superstreet” at the intersection of Main Road and Highway 17 is paving the way to becoming a reality, but not without some hesitancy on behalf of the general public.
The intersection improvements hope to provide better traffic flow by reducing left-hand turns. The new proposal will prohibit Main Road traffic from turning left or crossing Highway 17; instead, vehicles will turn right onto 17 and then proceed to move into the left lane before making a U-turn. County Council unanimously approved the project on January 29 and will contribute $1.5 million to add to the $2 million already allotted by federal safety funds to make the improvements possible.
Despite County Council’s unanimous agreement, those that will regularly drive in the affected area seem concerned. The South Carolina Department of Transportation held a public information meeting on May 14 at CE Williams Elementary School to provide residents with an opportunity to learn more about the street as well as ask questions to project manager Keith Riddle. According to the DOT, the superstreet design is the most financially feasible option to reduce collisions and improve traffic congestion. The entire project will total in at $3.5 million, compared to an overpass solution, which would cost an estimated $30 million in comparison.
The implementation of the superstreet should drastically reduce the number of accidents that occur at the intersection. From 2003 – 2011, 359 collisions occurred at Main Road and 17, and four fatalities. “This is a SC DOT project that was targeted for assistance because it was deemed to be an ‘unsafe’ intersection. No argument there,” said County Councilman Joe Qualey. “Something has to be done and this was presented as the only alternative for which there was funding.”
But many feel that County Council’s decision to move forward with the superstreet will cause more problems than solve them, especially considering the route is the main evacuation route for residents of Kiawah and Seabrook. “The Superstreet scheme was approved by the SC DOT and Charleston County Council without hearing from the public, primarily because it is the cheapest option and allegedly meets federal safety standards,” commented Seabrook Island resident Glenda Miller. “I don’t know anyone who is in favor of this plan! Once again, Johns Island residents will get the short end of the stick.”
The SCDOT says that the concept has included coordination with emergency services, and the evacuation routes will be maintained and improved, but even Qualey is skeptical. “I have concerns about the affect it may have for evacuates, and have been assured by our emergency personnel that there will be no detrimental impact. I, like all others, hope the road engineers are correct, and that this will provide relief.”
Even Qualey agreed that the superstreet idea isn’t the best solution. “This certainly isn’t my idea of a fix…everyone agrees that a flyover would be best, but there is not money for that and won’t be for a long time,” he said.
Kiawah authorities express concerns over the proposal as well. “While we are interested in safety improvements at this intersection, we are troubled that SCDOT and the Charleston County Council failed to consider that this is the main evacuation route for Kiawah, Seabrook, Wadmalaw and Johns Islands,” Councilman Lauren Patch said. “In addition, they failed to consider that the St. John’s Fire District depends on four fire stations that must pass through this intersection to backup fire and EMS services in these areas, reducing response times considerably.”
But with support from the County, SCDOT will continue to move forward with the intersection plans.