SUMMERVILLE — Dorchester County residents and officials are celebrating the long-awaited widening of a deadly stretch of highway in a fast-growing rural part of the county.
“This project is huge for this community,” Ashley Ridge High School Principal Karen Radcliffe said of the widening of three miles of S.C. Highway 165, also known as Delemar Highway.
During the last decade Radcliffe has responded to multiple wrecks on the narrow two-lane road in front of her 2,300-student school. Since 2010, the stretch has seen more than 250 accidents, including one fatality, according to the state Highway Patrol.
“I’ve seen many (wrecks), and they’re all scary and they’re all serious,” Radcliffe said.
This year she has noticed a decrease in vehicle accidents outside the school — even before the orange construction barrels were removed two weeks ago.
“The simple fact that the lanes are so much wider, and now you’ve got five lanes and the easement is so important,” she said.
The $14.2 million project included widening to five lanes the section from Carolinian Avenue to just beyond Ashley Ridge High School, plus adding bike lanes and an 8-foot sidewalk.
Workers should finish installing reflective markings by the end of the year, bringing the project in about eight months ahead of schedule, County Council Chairman Jay Byars said.
"It is unheard of in the Lowcountry to actually get a road finished ahead of time, so we’re excited about that, specifically because this is a major safety project for Dorchester County citizens," Byars said. "It is something that we really should have done 10 years ago but the money just wasn’t there."
Delemar Highway was supposed to be widened before Ashley Ridge opened in August 2008 but the project was delayed by funding and permitting issues. Work finally began last December.
It was funded by $17 million from the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank, $4.5 million from the Charleston Area Transportation Study and $1.5 million from the county. In addition to the $14.2 million construction cost, money was spent on right-of-way acquisition, engineering, design, wetland mitigation, utility relocation and more.
Leftover money will help fund the roundabout at Orangeburg and West Butternut roads, where construction is set to start soon, according to county spokeswoman Tiffany Norton.
Byars said the widening has been his top priority since taking office in 2010. He started an online petition in March 2016 called “Fund and Build Delemar Highway Now.”
That same month, Scott Mongillo of Bland Richter law firm wrote the state Transportation Department to call attention to poor conditions on the highway.
“We have some of our most inexperienced drivers on one of our worst roads,” said Mongillo, who wrote the letter on behalf of a 16-year-old Ashley Ridge student. On Monday, he praised the improvements.
“I’d like to thank everyone involved for addressing this problem,” he said. “We are very pleased with the finished project.”