Charleston County is putting finishing touches on its improvement project at Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and S.C. Highway 61 — a major West Ashley intersection known for years as a bottleneck for drivers and a safety hazard for pedestrians.
Around lunchtime Monday, people on foot, on bikes and in cars seemed to move smoothly in all directions thanks to new turning lanes and signalized crosswalks.
Two women waiting for the bus on Sam Rittenberg were thrilled that the stop now has a bench and a shelter to keep them out of the sun.
"It was very hot here waiting on the bus, and very tiring because there was no seat," said Mozelle Johnson. "It's a great improvement."
The $7.6 million project was planned more than 10 years ago when county voters approved the first half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, in 2007. The upgrades, completed over the past 18 months, included:
- Additional left-turn lanes on both sides of Highway 61.
- An extended right-turn lane for drivers heading south on Sam Rittenberg to Highway 61.
- New pavement.
- New sidewalks along both roads.
- Brick crosswalks with timed signals.
Those who travel through the intersection on a regular basis said the extra turn lanes seem to be making the biggest difference, especially during rush hour.
Traffic engineers with the city of Charleston and the county are working on improving the timing of the traffic signals, which should help move cars even more quickly.
Others shopping and working in the area said while the intersection is more functional, moving between businesses is still frustrating, especially along the stretch of Highway 61 between Crossroads Centre and Westwood Plaza.
Kim Baker, who lives in Summerville and works at the ECig Charleston store, said she still doesn't feel safe turning left from 61 into the Crossroads Centre to get to work.
Katrina Wiley, who comes from the same direction to get her haircut in the shopping center, agreed.
"The traffic is just insane," she said.
That's the tricky thing about intersection improvements, said Richard Turner, the project manager with the county.
"We can make a change at one intersection, and it may have a negative impact on an intersection farther down the road," he said.
Plus, with the area growing so rapidly, some issues are unpredictable, he added.
"We make projections on what we think the driving habits will be and what growth we’ll have in the future," he said. "That can be a tough thing to wrap our heads around sometimes."
The intersection is among the busiest in the area because it's one of the main routes for outer West Ashley residents to get to and from the peninsula, and for those heading to and from Citadel Mall.
It's also proving to be an important area for the long-term revitalization of West Ashley. The Westwood Plaza shopping center was recently redeveloped, and city officials think the improved appearance and functionality of the intersection next to it will help trigger more private investments.