Some residents wary of U.S. 17 and Main Road ‘superstreet’ plan

A 'superstreet' at the busy intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and Main Road was one of the proposed ways to alleviate congestion at the gateway to Johns Island. Buy this photo

S.C. Department of Transportation project manager Keith Riddle didn’t hear many positive comments Tuesday about the“superstreet” plan for improvements to the intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and Main Road.

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For more information, including graphics and a video, visit the county’s web site at http://roads.charlestoncounty.org/superstreet.php

The DOT held a public information meeting Tuesday at C.E. Williams Middle School in West Ashley to give residents more information and answer questions about the plan for the intersection at the gateway to Johns Island. The highly congested intersection needs improvement because it has a high rate of crashes.

A “superstreet” intersection keeps traffic flowing more freely on a major thoroughfare by reducing the effect of left turns and crossings from a side street, said Riddle, a safety projects engineer for the DOT. Under the design, traffic from Main Road won’t be able to turn left or cross U.S. 17. Instead, cars must first turn right onto U.S. 17, move into the left lane, then make a U-turn.

“It’s a new concept. People haven’t seen it, and they’re skeptical,” Riddle said. “All they see is you have to make a right to make a left.”

But, he said, it’s a design that has been successful in other places.

James Island resident Braden Davis said he’s one of the many people who attended the meeting who don’t like the plan. “It’s a completely bad design,” he said.

Davis said he generally likes another plan the DOT considered for the intersection, which included overpasses to move traffic more smoothly. That design would work better if U.S. 17 were to be widened in the future, he said. “Let’s get it right the first time.”

Riddle said the DOT considered several designs for the intersection, and then narrowed the list to two alternatives, the “superstreet” and the overpass plan. Both alternatives improved safety and allowed the intersection to better handle higher traffic volumes than it does now, he said. But the overpass plan would cost $30 million while the “superstreet” would cost only about $3.5 million, he said. The agency simply doesn’t have the money for a $30 million improvement plan, he said.

Riddle said the U.S. 17 and Main Road intersection was selected for improvements because of its high accident rate. There were 359 crashes, three fatalities and 193 people injured there between 2003 and 2011, according to the most recent data available, he said.

At the intersection of Main and Old Charleston roads, which sits just 300 feet from the U.S. 17 and Main Road intersection and adds to congestion and safety issues, there were 105 crashes and 53 people injured.

Riddle estimated the project would be complete at the end of 2014.

Johns Island resident Benny Delgado also would prefer the overpass plan. “I’m a little confused,” he said. “Why are we getting a little traffic circle when they just spent millions on road improvements in Mount Pleasant?”

But West Ashley resident Amber Henderson said she’s keeping an open mind. “I think it could work but there are things to consider,” such as how well emergency vehicles will be able to make their way through the intersection, she said. “I think I can see the appeal, and nothing is going to be 100 percent perfect.”

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