Berkeley tests own ‘superstreet’

West Ashley residents complaining about a proposed “superstreet” won’t have to look far to see how the concept works.

In an effort to improve road safety, the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and Oakley Road in Moncks Corner is now a superstreet or “Restricted Crossing U-Turn.” The project was recently completed.

It is similar to the project planned for U.S. 17 and Main Road except that the more rural site does not include traffic signals, said Joey Riddle, safety program engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

The DOT Safety Office determined a change was needed at the Berkeley County intersection based on its crash history, Riddle said. Between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 30, 2012, there were 40 crashes that included 21 injuries and one fatality at the intersection.

U.S. 52 is a rural four-lane divided highway with a speed limit of 60 mph, but a traffic count showed that the volume from Oakley Road is too light to warrant a signal at the intersection.

“Would a traffic light have been better? Absolutely,” said state Highway Commissioner Jim Rozier of Berkeley County. The project did not go before the Highway Commission for approval because it is considered a maintenance project, he said.

Some residents of the area attended a recent meeting to express concerns, but the project was already under way, Riddle said. The meeting was at Nichols Equipment Co., which is near the intersection on U.S. 52 and has a display sign questioning the DOT’s plans. Phone messages left at the business on Monday were not returned.

Four-lane divided highways have more right-angle crashes than two-lane undivided highway intersections because of people making left turns or crossing the highway from minor roads, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The superstreet design stops vehicles from turning left or going straight on Oakley Road through U.S. 52, also eliminating stopping in the highway’s narrow median, which caused trucks and buses to extend into the highway.

Instead, traffic will turn right and go 700 to 800 feet before making a U-turn. The turnarounds include “bulb-outs” that allow large vehicles to turn, Riddle said.

“Although it’s somewhat uncommon in South Carolina, it’s a Federal Highway Administration-accepted design,” Riddle said. “We’re confident with the safety results of this design. It’s just difficult, when it’s nontraditional, for us to educate the public.”

No crashes have been reported since the December 2011 completion of such an intersection in Horry County, Riddle said. Three additional intersections are planned in Horry County.

Rozier said the safety of the intersection remains to be seen.

“There’s a difference of opinion of a lot of people whether it is safer or not,” he said. “This one is done, so let’s see how it works. I do want that intersection safer, so if this doesn’t accomplish the safety that we want to accomplish, then we’ll have to do something else, but if it improves the safety, then it works.”