Photo above: Preview of what the roundabout on Lady’s Island might look like (not an accurate representation).
By Jim Hicks, LIBPA
For the last couple of decades Lady’s Island has been the fastest growing area in northern Beaufort County and this growth has required many infrastructure changes to the island. To cope with the increase in population the electrical capacity has been tripled, Sea Island Parkway, Lady’s Island Drive and a portion of Sams Point Road widened and another span of the McTeer Bridge was built. We have also expanded both water and sewer service throughout the island, built one park and are in the process of completing a second park, built a new high school and a performing arts center plus purchased property for a new elementary school on Springfield Road. Now, with some mixed feelings, we anticipate a roundabout being installed at the intersection of Sams Point Road, Brickyard Point Road and Holly Hall Road.
Admittedly some of these mixed feelings as to the roundabout come from a basic dislike of change. Most of us who use the intersection are familiar with traffic signals but roundabouts not so much. There is no question that the Sams Point Road, Brickyard Point Road and Holly Hall Road intersection has been a traffic concern for a number of years. In 2013 the South Carolina Department of Transportation, in an effort to determine the best way to improve the intersection, conducted an analysis of two possible solutions – traffic signals and a roundabout. Following are some highlights of the analysis.
– The intersection, as presently configured, operates at a level of service (LOS) scoring an “F” during both the morning and evening peak traffic hours. The letter grades for level of service is similar to school grades with “A” being great and “F” being what you do not want to have.
– In the morning, during the peak hour of traffic, the intersection is faced with 754 vehicles attempting to turn right on Sams Point Road from Brickyard Point Road and by 2035 that number is projected to be 1012.
– In a typical afternoon peak hour of traffic there will be 558 vehicles turning left from Sams Point Road onto Brickyard Point Road and by 2035 that number is projected to be 749.
– From Holly Hall Road, in the morning at the peak hour of traffic, 71 vehicles will attempt to turn left onto Sams Point Road and by 2035 that number is projected to be 95. Considering the 60 homes which D. R. Horton is building as part of the Tidewater Creek Development on Little Capers Road the long range number of 95 may be a bit low.
– Installation of a signal at the intersection would provide operational improvements under current conditions but would be expected to fail by 2035. Signal control would fail earlier if the annual growth rate of northern Lady’s Island exceeds 1.5%. Lady’s Island population grew 36% in the last decade.
Based on the results of this analysis, the South Carolina Department of Transportation, with the support of the Beaufort County Traffic Engineer, decided a roundabout at the intersection was the best and safest long term solution. Some have indicated that with an estimated cost of $2.5 million for construction of a roundabout perhaps SCDOT should install a traffic signal, which would be cheaper, and after installation wait until future traffic once again overwhelms the intersection and then consider a roundabout or something else. In this regard Colin Kinton, Beaufort County Transportation Engineer indicates that “Roundabouts typically cost much more than a traffic signal with up front capital. However, if you look at the life cycle costs of a roundabout over a 20 year period, figuring in the cost of electricity, maintenance, lost time due to increase in delays, rebuilding of traffic signals and property/personal damage from vehicle crashes, a roundabout provides a better long term investment. Also, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study found that roundabouts, when compared to traffic signals, resulted in a 39 percent reduction in overall crashes, a 76 percent reduction in injury crashes and a 90 percent reduction in fatal crashes. These statistics are hard to ignore, and simply put, roundabouts are remarkably safer than traffic signals. In my opinion, we should always be putting our best foot forward to improving highway safety and working to eliminate fatalities.”
A roundabout, at this critical intersection, is going to become a reality. The utilities are in the process of being relocated to make room for the roundabout. The request for a proposal for construction of the Sams Point roundabout is scheduled to be released in January 2016. It is difficult to argue that we should not install the safest and best system for handling the traffic at this key intersection. English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is quoted as saying “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” We, on Lady’s Island, who will use the new roundabout, are surely as intelligent as those folks in the northern part of the United States who use roundabouts on a routine basis; still the thoughts of coping with one scares the dickens out of many of us.