Two months after voting down funding for safety upgrades to a dangerous — and at times deadly — section of Millwood Avenue, a county committee on June 25 chose to devote money to the project.
The Richland County Transportation Committee unanimously voted to allot $485,325 for safety upgrades on Millwood. Portions of that road have proven hard to navigate for pedestrians and drivers alike.
Roughly 21,000 cars per day travel along Millwood from Gervais Street to Blossom Street, according to a pedestrian safety study completed by the state Department of Transportation. In three and a half years, there have been 145 car crashes on that road, including 51 rear-end crashes. Three pedestrians have been killed by cars along the street since 2015, including one in January of this year in the 2500 block of Millwood.
There are two painted crosswalks — which currently have no traffic lights or walk/don’t walk lights — along the section of Millwood in question, including one near House Street that has proven particularly tricky for pedestrians to navigate.
The City of Columbia and the South Carolina Department of Transportation are collaborating to put in a HAWK beacon signal near Millwood and House. That's a traffic control device that allows a pedestrian to push a button and activate a red light that signals traffic to stop until the pedestrian can cross. There are a couple such beacons already in use locally, including on Taylor Street near Finlay Park, and at the chicken plant on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia.
The Richland County Transportation Committee is a board that is appointed by state House members from Richland County. It is tasked with approving funding for road projects in the county, and is part of a partnership between the state’s counties and the S.C. Department of Transportation. Officials say the Richland County CTC receives about $300,000 per month from the state’s gas tax to put toward road projects.
Earlier this year, local officials, including state Rep. Seth Rose, began pushing for up to $500,000 for resurfacing, modified striping and other safety measures on Millwood. However, at an April meeting, the committee voted down a request for the funding, with Chairman James C. Brown stressing that the committee has a number of projects on its list that need funding.
In the months since, the drumbeat of political support for making improvements to the dangerous road have grown louder.
On May 7, a number of state legislators signed a letter to Brown and the transportation committee — a copy of which was obtained by Free Times — urging them to approve up to $500,000 for Millwood, noting it is where "three citizens have been tragically killed in the last four years." State representatives signing the letter included Rose, Chris Hart, Todd Rutherford, Annie McDaniel, Leon Howard, Kirkman Finlay, Kambrell Garvin, Beth Bernstein, Ivory Thigpen and Jimmy Bales. State Sen. Darrell Jackson also signed the document.
"That project came to us in the [April] meeting and we've had a lot of discussion on it and a lot of compassionate concern about it," Brown said on June 25.
Officials with SCDOT say that the $485,000 in committee funds would be used for resurfacing Millwood, from Gervais Street to Gladden Street. After a bidding process this fall, construction would likely begin in spring 2020. In the months leading toward construction, the City of Columbia will likely meet with area neighborhoods to discuss details of how the revamp of the road will look.
Rose was pleased the funding was approved and insists it will benefit the public.
"I'm so happy for the community and proud of the CTC board and the SCDOT for allocating the funds," Rose tells Free Times. "This action is going to save lives."
Richland Transportation Committee member Roger Sears was among those who have been pushing for safety upgrades along Millwood. After seeing the funding voted down two months ago, he was glad for a reversal on June 25.
"At the end of the day, this is a very important project," Sears says.