MOUNT PLEASANT — Charleston County's new plan to untangle traffic at the busy intersection of highways 17 and 41 calls for a roadway unlike any seen in South Carolina.
"At first glance, it looks like a strand of DNA," said Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie.
Parts of S.C. Highway 41 would criss-cross, like the center of a figure 8, and that's just one part of the plan to rework traffic in the north end of South Carolina's fourth-largest city. It also calls for making part of U.S. Highway 17 a 10-lane road, adding more traffic lights on Highway 41, creating roundabouts, building an overpass and prohibiting left turns in several places.
The plan is complicated enough that Charleston County has produced a 4½-minute video to show how it would work, as the county seeks public comment.
What began as a plan to improve the intersection of 41 and 17, possibly by building an overpass, now includes alterations to multiple intersections and the widening of several roads. Charleston County officials say the resulting plan would improve traffic the most, with the least impact on existing homes and businesses.
“We have looked at 12 different options, and this one stands well above the rest of them," said county project manager Cal Oyer. “The cost of all this is actually less than the bridge we had looked at."
Some Mount Pleasant residents are already expressing concerns. One of them is Elliott Summey, the chairman of Charleston County Council, who said on Facebook that he would submit "a formal letter protesting the plan."
Summey said so far, he has only reviewed the portion of the plan that directly involves Brickyard Plantation, and he said it's "dumb as hell."
Summey and other residents of the large Brickyard Plantation subdivision are worried because the plan would prohibit left turns from Highway 17 at the intersection of Brickyard Parkway, which leads to roughly 800 homes, and Hamlin Road, where an elementary and middle school are located. In order to turn left from Highway 17 in either direction, drivers would have to instead turn right, then circle back at a new roundabout.
“It’s already a bit crazy in the mornings, and this would make it unbearable for anyone," said Brickyard resident Charles Cavallaro.
Cavallaro said he's organizing a petition drive and plans to distribute flyers. He said it's unfair to send highway traffic into the subdivision in order to make turns, and he predicts that eliminating left turns off the highway would create terrible congestion as people try to get to schools on Hamlin Road or into Brickyard.
"Yes, the intersection at Brickyard and 17 needs to get better," said Brickyard resident Paul Renaghan. But, he said, prohibiting left turns and adding traffic circles "is a terrible idea" that will cause rather than solve problems.
For most drivers and residents of the area, the intersection of 17 and 41 is the big problem that needs to be addressed. The development of large residential subdivisions in that area, including Park West, Dunes West, Rivertowne and Carolina Park, has overwhelmed roads with traffic.
“In the future, the traffic load on 17 will be orders of magnitude more than it is now," Oyer said.
The intersection plan would allow three lanes of traffic to turn from northbound Highway 17 onto Highway 41 at the same time.
Farther north on 17, toward Wando High School, there would be an overpass at Porchers Bluff Road so that traffic doesn't have to stop at the current light there.
County Councilman Dickie Schweers, whose district abuts the project area, said the plan is a unique way to solve a traffic problem that’s not easy to solve.
“Is it innovative? It’s extremely innovative,” he said. “Is it what we’re used to in Charleston County? No, it’s not. Will it work? The engineers need to convince us that it will work.”
The different intersection improvements are part of a larger, $130 million plan that includes widening two-lane Highway 41. The plan to widen the road will be the subject of an October public meeting, Oyer said, along with the intersection plan.
The work on both road plans is expected to happen between 2022 and 2025, once final plans are in place and through federal approval. County officials expect that most construction work will be done at night.