Of all the highway and street upgrades in the Charleston County RoadWise program, the $18 million Harbor View Road makeover on James Island has always drawn the most public interest, said county Administrator Kurt Taylor.
Tuesday night was no exception as more than 150 people turned out at Stiles Point Elementary School to pore over maps detailing the latest proposed changes to the road. The project includes the first traffic roundabout on James Island, an idea that drew support.
“I think they ought to have all roundabouts. They work great in Mount Pleasant,” said island resident Bob Hawes.
Although new to James Island and West Ashley, roundabouts are increasingly familiar to Mount Pleasant drivers. There are three of the traffic loops on Rifle Range Road, two of them on Mathis Ferry Road and more in the works at other locations. North Charleston has a roundabout at Park Circle.
The James Island roundabout is planned at the intersection of Harbor View and Fort Johnson roads. In a roundabout, traffic flow is counterclockwise. They are safer for pedestrians and have been shown to sharply reduce crashes that result in injuries and fatalities, according to a study by Thomas & Hutton Engineering.
The Harbor View project adds other improvements to two miles of the road from North Shore Drive to Fort Johnson including 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalks on both sides of the road, 4-foot-wide bicycle lanes next to the vehicle lanes and a 13-foot-wide center left-turn lane from Northshore to Affirmation Boulevard. New right-turn lanes at major intersections and traffic signals at Fort Sumter and Mikell drives are planned.
The purpose of the project is better traffic flow and safety on Harbor View, where the average annual daily traffic count is 26,000 vehicles. Harbor View is subject to frequent delays because of congestion and lack of a center turn lane, officials said.
Graham Heller said he thought the design of the bicycle lanes was dangerous because they adjoin the vehicle lanes.
“I would like to have protection for the bike lane,” he said.
Brent Patterson said roundabouts slow vehicles down, but the new proposed center turn lanes will speed up through traffic and make it more difficult to turn left onto Harbor View from side streets without traffic signals.
“It makes it like a Folly Road kind of thing. That’s the problem most people have right now is getting out into traffic,” he said.
Only right turns into and out of North Shore Drive would be allowed under the new Harbor View design. North Shore connects with Dills Bluff Road, a major cut-through on the island.
Gary Milliken worried that the North Shore changes would drive commuters to other nearby streets and create dangerous situations there because of people wanting to turn left onto Harbor View.
“I’m afraid they’re creating real safety issues there,” Milliken said.
The project is moving toward a deadline for a final project design this summer followed by right-of-way acquisition in the fall and construction starting next spring. It is anticipated that construction would be completed in the fall of 2015.
The $18 million project was approved in the transportation sales tax bond referendum in 2004 that authorized the county to issue $77 million in bonds for road work.
In the fall of 2004, Charleston County voters approved increasing the sales tax by one-half cent on purchases made within the county for 25 years or until a total of investment of $1.3 billion dollars was collected.
A total of $221.5 million (17 percent) was dedicated to green space acquisition, while $1.08 billion (83 percent) was designated for transportation funding, including mass transit. The sales tax increase took effect in May 2005.
The same ballot authorized the county to issue bonds to provide funding for seven transportation projects, one of which was the Harbor View Road improvements.