Beware Cooks Crossroads at rush hour

x On a cold Tuesday morning, Dorchester County sheriff’s Cpl. Mike Intini directs the traffic converging at Cooks Crossroads on the first day of school after the holiday break.

SUMMERVILLE -- The man standing in the middle of the latest traffic nightmare in the Lowcountry has just worked a 12-hour night shift. In the pre-dawn, he's waving a red flashlight like a matador at cars brushing past him.

A few pop the gas pedal as they go by, honk the horn or yell. One driver on Tuesday rolled down the window in the cold to gripe, "'Bout time."

Welcome to Cooks Crossroads, the intersection of Bacons Bridge Road and S.C. Highway 61.

Dorchester County sheriff's Cpl. Mike Intini volunteered for this. For two hours, his job is to direct vehicles through this snarled, short-fused mess.

The four-way stop sign is the convergence of rush-hour traffic on two-lane roads going back and forth from the busy Oakbrook suburb, the expansive Legend Oaks subdivision, and cars and buses from Beech Hill Elementary School and the newly built Ashley Ridge High School.

Tuesday was the first day back to school after the holiday break. From the intersection, the lines of traffic backed up so far that at some points, the deputy couldn't see the end.

The once-country intersection of Cooks Crossroads has joined a long list of new-school traffic miasmas in the Lowcountry that recently included S.C. 41 in Mount Pleasant and Cane Bay in Berkeley County.

Intini, 29, isn't the solution. He's a stopgap as county leaders search for a fix that might not be there in a hurry.

"It's a bottleneck anyway. We don't know (what will work) until we actually try," said Councilman Jay Byars, who represents the district.

So far, reviews are mixed. For every person who thinks the deputy has improved traffic flow, there's another who thinks he slows it up.

"Yeah, very much, he's helped," Chris Rogers of Legend Oaks said as he waited in line to drop off his daughter, Abby, at school.

But a woman a car behind disagreed.

Not so long ago, the crossroads was just another quiet, rural intersection. But development kept coming. When Ashley Ridge opened in 2009, its 2,000-student enrollment outstripped projections so fast that the district added classrooms after only a year.

Cars use Legend Oaks back streets and other nearby roads as shortcuts. There have been more than 30 wrecks in three years, and sheriff's traffic patrols have written 15 tickets in the subdivision already this school year.

The tickets don't help much, Sheriff L.C. Knight said. After the first car is stopped, students get on social media to alert each other until they leave.

The "ultimate fix," as Knight and county leaders agree, is a planned widening of Bacons Bridge Road to four lanes all the way to the high school, a project that would rework the plagued intersection and install traffic lights. But that's at least two or three years away.

County leaders want to step up the intersection work. Knight has proposed adding more stop signs to the shortcut road through Legend Oaks.

In the meantime, it's Intini, at $25 per hour of overtime pay. After 30 school days, the Sheriff's Office will review how well it works with Dorchester District 2 school officials and neighborhood leaders.

"We'll try it out. We'll see," Knight said. "Feedback would be welcome."

Intini volunteered largely because he lives in a nearby neighborhood and no one else would do it, he said.

Has he changed his mind? He gives a rueful smile.

"I don't have a choice now. My name is on the (assignment) paper," Intini said.

No, he shakes his head, he's not looking forward to coming back out today.

"Not really, not in that 18 degrees."

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at @bopete.