Calling it a safety issue, the Berkeley County Transportation Committee on Wednesday agreed to fund its first traffic light, which will be near Cane Bay High School on U.S. Highway 176.
"The (transportation committee) has never funded a traffic signal," said Berkeley County Engineer Frank Carson, chairman of the committee. "It's not that we shouldn't, but it's not a separate (funding) category."
Carson told Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson that he can tell Cane Bay parents that the light will be installed.
"Their next question is when, and we don't know the answer to that yet," Carson said. "As soon as practical."
The project will be paid for by the county's "C" funds, which come from state gas taxes. Carson said the committee generally funds paving projects, and the money for the light will come from the category called "other."
The committee agreed that a traffic signal is needed, but some questioned who should pay for it and what it should look like.
"It's a basic safety issue," said state Rep. Bill Crosby, R-North Charleston, who suggested to the district using the C funds. "I don't care if they put up old creosote poles and put a light on it. They need a light."
Thompson said the district has been trying for more than a year to get a light at the site, which is north of Goose Creek in Berkeley County but has a Summerville address.
"Weekly, if not daily, we have accidents in this area," Thompson said. "It's very difficult to make a left-hand turn out of that development. We feel that it's a safety issue not only for the children that come in and out of these schools, but the residents as well and those that travel this highway daily."
The S.C. Department of Public Safety does not have statistics for the number of accidents in the area. The agency maintains records for wrecks with injuries, fatalities or more than $1,000 in property damage on state-maintained roads, but many of the roads in the area are private property, according to the department.
There was a fatality in front of the school as recently at April 20, according to The Post and Courier's records.
Thompson's request was for $105,535 to install a signal with decorative arms, which he said was the desire of the developer, Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development Co.
Carson said it would cost about $50,000 to install a standard stoplight.
"What we're looking at is a safety issue, and it's likely to get worse," said committee member Dennis Harmon, city administrator for Goose Creek, who suggested that the transportation committee pay for basic installation of a traffic light and for decorative features to be the responsibility of others.
Ben Gramling of Gramling Brothers was not available for comment Wednesday.
Harmon's motion was passed unanimously, with one abstention and one member absent. Committee member John Fondren was absent and Tom Lewis abstained.
When the neighborhood was first planned in 2005, officials predicted that the road would need improvements. The rural two-lane highway has a speed limit of 55 mph. A school speed zone of 45 mph has been added since Cane Bay High was built.
"The DOT identified that a signal was going to be needed at some point," said Lewis, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation, adding that such costs are usually paid by the person requesting the permit, which was the school district. Lewis abstained from voting because of his involvement in the situation.
In 2005, Gramling Brothers donated 200-plus acres to the district to build three schools -- Cane Bay High, which has more than 1,400 students, opened in 2008; Cane Bay Elementary, with 700 students, opened the following year; and the 900-student Cane Bay Middle will open next summer.
Thompson, who has been superintendent since February, said the developers gave the land to the district in exchange for the district paving Cane Bay Boulevard for a quarter mile past the school, which also required putting in turn lanes on U.S. 176.
"I've never seen any agreement where the school district agreed to put in a traffic signal," he said. "We've done everything that we can possibly do to try to secure funding for this, and we're just here to ask for help."
After the meeting, Thompson said he was happy with the outcome.
"The bottom line is, we've got people getting hurt out there in front of this school," he said. "We need to figure out as representatives of Berkeley County how to get a traffic signal there."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.