BLUFFTON - When Bluffton Parkway was built about a dozen years ago, its intersection with S.C. Highway 46 was a major source of accidents.
Today, it still may induce anxiety in some drivers, especially because it's one of South Carolina's first dual-lane roundabouts.
While the change has received mixed reviews, some say it's much safer. Still, the experience of approaching a roundabout and seeing a dot and squiggle painted on the roadbed might make some drivers wonder whether they skipped a crucial part of their driver's ed course.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page recently cited it to underscore her concerns about building a similar dual-lane roundabout proposed where Coleman, Chuck Dawley and Ben Sawyer boulevards converge, next to Royall Ace Hardware.
"The whole thing gives me pause," she said. "I've been pretty vocal - I don't like a dual lane roundabout. But I'm not a traffic engineer, and I've been assured over and over again that it will be just fine."
The story of S.C. 46 and Bluffton Highway might shed some light on what the town can expect, and few know the Bluffton intersection's history better than Eric De Weerd, whose business, All My Son's Moving and Storage, sits right next door.
The intersection had been a source of serious accidents, and highway officials gradually went from stop signs to stop lights with little improvement, he said. The roundabout was installed about four years ago, but didn't work well at first.
Robert Clark, District 6 administrator with the S.C. Department of Transportation, acknowledged the confusion and the need for new markings when the novel roundabout first was built.
The new markings differ by lane. The right lane contains a squiggled arrow indicating that motorists in it may turn right or go straight. The left lane contains a squiggly arrow surrounding a circle indicating that this lane's motorists may go straight or turn left at the intersection.
The circle is somewhat different from the older, two-lane roundabout nearby, where S.C. Highways 46 and 170 intersect. That roundabout is wider and has a separate right-turn lane that essentially lets those motorists bypass the circle. The Hilton Head Island roundabout at Sea Pines Circle has a similar right-turn lane.
"We still have plenty of accidents, but they're less life-threatening," De Weerd said. "This has certainly worked out for the best."
That might be because motorists often must come to a stop as they wait for traffic already going around the circle. On a recent Friday, it wasn't uncommon to see a line of stopped cars four or five deep, and speeds through the circle appeared slow.
De Weerd said the recent accidents have occurred at slower speeds, unlike the one he remembers that involved an elderly Sun City woman, one that prompted him to reach out to U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., about the interchange.
"I don't have to be as concerned about calling 911 anymore," De Weerd said.
The Bluffton roundabout's reputation already has migrated north. During Mount Pleasant Town Council's annual retreat this year, Page made a motion to back off the roundabout plan as part of its Coleman Boulevard revitalization. But only she and Councilman Gary Santos voted in favor, so the roundabout is still a go, and work is expected to begin this year.
Page said the Mount Pleasant design is one of the first of its kind in the state, one where three four-lane roads converge.
"I'm not usually the one who puts my hand up and says, 'Linda Page wants to be the guinea pig!' I like the tried and true," she said. "I hope I'm wrong. I absolutely hope I'm wrong."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
A truck needs a little of both lanes as it enters the SC 46 and Bluffton Parkway dual-lane roundabout.×
The older roundabout where S.C. Highways 46 and 170 converge has not had as many problems, possibly because it has separate rigth turn lanes that lets that traffic bypass the circle.×
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