A committee appointed by state lawmakers recently chose not to spend money — at least not yet — on safety upgrades to a particularly dangerous section of busy Millwood Avenue.
Roughly 21,000 cars per day travel along Millwood Avenue from Gervais Street to Blossom Street, according to a pedestrian safety study recently completed by SCDOT. 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 — with 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.
Recently, some local officials, including state Rep. Seth Rose, have begun to push for road work and other measures that could make the road safer.
The Richland County Transportation Committee is a board that is appointed by 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.
On April 24, the Richland County CTC opened talks about possible improvements to Millwood Avenue.
According to discussion at the April 24 gathering, there are several safety improvements that could be made along Millwood, including the installation of HAWK beacon signals. Those are traffic control devices that allow 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.
CTC member Roger Sears spurred the Millwood discussion at the recent meeting, and put forth a motion to allot $500,000 toward upgrades along the road. When that motion died for lack of a second, he later proposed allotting $250,000 to Millwood. That motion failed.
Committee Chairman James C. Brown said he wasn’t prepared to jump a Millwood project ahead of other road work that is already in line on the CTC’s list.
“We look at all projects,” Brown says. “All projects have issues. Some of them do have safety issues. We have to make a decision on which is the best at any point. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money to work with. … We have other projects that are in the same situation. They are on hold, as well. We average like [$300,000] a month and we have projects committed already for those monies. [Millwood] will be down the road. We don’t know when, but it will come back up and we’ll give it consideration.”
Brown told reporters he hopes the City of Columbia could join in paying for Millwood improvements.
Sears was disappointed there was no CTC funding allotted for Milwood on April 23. But he remains hopeful that could change later this year.
“Yeah, it’s a little frustrating,” Sears tells Free Times. “We get all kinds of projects. We get requests for repaving, resurfacing, for intersections. But, to me, there’s a demonstrated safety need here. We’ve got three fatalities in the last few years. … This is a demonstrated safety need. When you have this high number of accidents, then, to me, the faster you move, the more you can save, whether that’s another life or maybe a rear-end collision.
“I know all the projects that are brought before the CTC are important. For me, I rank safety higher than anything.”
Sears says he plans to bring up funding for Millwood Avenue again at the next CTC meeting in June.
Rose tells Free Times he’s been concerned about pedestrian safety along Millwood for a while. He hopes the CTC will allocate money for safety improvements along the avenue in coming months. The road wouldn’t likely be repaved by SCDOT for another four years, so getting CTC money could help move things along more quickly.
Rose pointed out the pedestrian deaths on Millwood in recent years and says “more are going to die” if there aren’t improvements made.
“I understand there are a lot of areas of need,” Rose says. “But here we have a small stretch of road where three people have died in the last four years, where there have been nearly 150 documented car accidents in the last three years, where 51 cars have been rear-ended, and we have an intensive DOT study has shown and raised concern for the small location of just a few blocks. I would hope that an organization that has funds to do something about it promptly and is charged with improving our roadways would move forward with improvements.
“I’m still hopeful that they would allocate some kind of funding at the next meeting.”