SUMMERVILLE — The two-lane highway that serves one of the state’s largest high schools is unsafe, forcing students to “navigate a gauntlet of danger” to get to school, according to a local lawyer.
It remains unclear what will happen there next.
Scott Mongillo of Bland Richter law firm recently wrote the Department of Transportation to call its attention to what he said are dangerous conditions on S.C. Highway 165, also known as Delemar Highway, from Cooks Crossroads to Ashley Ridge High School.
The two-lane road is marked by potholes and patches, with ditches running parallel to the road on both sides. There are no guard rails or shoulders, and visibility is limited at night.
The road is also dangerous because its traffic includes 18-wheelers and cars with student drivers.
“We have some of our most inexperienced drivers on one of our worst roads,” said Mongillo, who wrote the letter on behalf of a 16-year-old Ashley Ridge student.
In response to his letter, the DOT’s engineers have been asked to look at the stretch, said DOT Chief Council Linda McDonald, adding that there currently is no timeline for a response.
The highway’s dangers have been known at least since the high school opened eight years ago. Dorchester District 2 leaders said they were assured it would be widened before the school opened, but it wasn’t.
Just two months after the school opened in August 2008, longtime district crossing guard and courier Joe Bunch was killed when he was waiting to pull onto Delemar and a motorist on the highway lost control and hit him.
In 2012 the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank pledged $13 million to widen the road, and officials held a ceremony in January 2013 to mark the project’s start.
But the design work was delayed, according to Dorchester County Administrator Jason Ward. When the project finally went out for bids last summer, the bids were about $4 million more than the amount on hand. Instead of the widening work, the county mended part of the road with a new layer of asphalt.
“We can patch and patch, week in and week out, but it’s not going to take care of the issue,” said Ashley Ridge principal Karen Radcliffe. “That road is entirely too narrow.”
Ashley Ridge sophomore Emma Sutton appeared before Dorchester County Council this month to describe her fear of driving to school. She once had to swerve to avoid a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer.
“I just got my restricted (license), and just driving down that road terrifies me to death,” she said. “I hear so many terrifying stories that happen on that road.”
The stretch has been the site of about 250 accidents in the last five years, including one fatality, according to the state Highway Patrol.
Radcliffe said she has found students’ cars leaning up against trees or flipped over in a ditch. “I can’t tell you the number of times that I have walked down Delemar to try to reach a wreck and to see how my students are,” she said.
To respond to residents’ concerns, Dorchester County Councilman Jay Byars recently started a petition called “Fund and Build Delemar Highway Now” on ipetitions.com.
The road is “grotesquely unsafe,” said Byars, who called the widening his “No. 1 priority” when he first was elected in 2010. “It is far past time to fully fund and build this road.”
Byars said he hopes to collect 2,000 signatures to share with the state Infrastructure Bank, which he hopes will make up for the funding shortfall.