Options being considered to address complaints, concerns with project

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Hwy. 20 Street Enhancement

By David Meade

Williamston officials met with SCDOT “C” Program Manager Chris Jordan earlier this week to look at options related to safety and traffic flow concerns associated with the town’s new street enhancement project on West Main St. (SC Hwy. 20)

SCDOT and contractor representatives completed a project walk-thru Monday morning and found only minor items for the contractor’s punchlist to finish the project, according to Jordan.

However, another meeting was held later in the day to address concerns that have been raised by fire and EMS officials and the public about the project.

Mayor Mack Durham, Councilman Rockey Burgess, Councilman David Harvell, Rep. Anne Thayer, and planner Blake Sanders met with Jordan to discuss concerns about the project and possible options.

According to Mayor Durham, there are concerns from fire and EMS officials about response delays that could be caused by traffic back-up at certain times and the fact that the new bulb-outs, particularly the one at Minor Street, prevent emergency vehicles from being able to get through traffic.

Options discussed include tearing out the recently completed bulb-out planter(s) and redesigning the project, possibly with a left turn lane, re-routing traffic, placing a police officer at the intersection of Minor and West Main during early school hours and the possibility of having a traffic signal placed at the intersection of Minor and West Main.

During the four to five weeks of construction, residents complained, especially on social media, about the project.

As with any road construction project, there were some traffic disruptions and back-ups, especially during school traffic.

The Journal posted several photos of traffic during the period and mentioned the comments being made on Facebook page.

There were also complaints about the closeness of the traffic lanes due to the new bulb-outs and not being able to get around eastbound traffic turning left from West Main onto Minor St.

The problems were exacerbated during heavier traffic flow times just prior to school hours and midday when students and buses are transporting to and from Palmetto High School and the Career and Technology Center. Traffic is also heavy through downtown Williamston on Fridays.

Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison said he has concerns about getting to the fire station during peak traffic times and getting fire trucks onto West Main Street when traffic is backed up past the fire station.

Prior to the street enhancement project improvements, drivers took advantage of an unofficial passing lane on the right side of the road to go around vehicles turning left onto Minor Street, allowing some traffic to continue to flow.

A new 31.5 foot bulb-out planter and a smaller bulb-out planter now prevents eastbound vehicles from going around vehicles making the left turn onto Minor St.

Even though motorists have done it for years, according to Jordan, passing on the right side of the road without a designated lane is against the law.

One question arising during the conversation surrounding the project was who came up with the design?

Until Monday, Mayor Durham told councilmembers and others and stated on social media that the street enhancement was a SCDOT project.

Jordan said SCDOT was there to engineer and consult on street enhancement projects based on the requests of towns and municipalities.

At the start of construction on the project, Councilman Rockey Burgess and The Journal were told by the mayor that SCDOT had engineered the project and that the town had not been involved.

The Journal reported in early January that the project was different from a plan that was approved by the town and others including the GWBA/Town Streetscape Committee in 2011-12.

When asked about the current project in December, just before construction actually began, Mayor Durham told The Journal that other than the current plans, he did not have specific information about the project and that the town was not involved in the plans, that it was a SCDOT project.

The current project is considerably different from the original project plans which were submitted in 2012 under then mayor Carthel Crout and approved for the FHWA Federal Highway Administration funding. Durham was a member of council at the time.

The project was scaled back from the original plan which included stamped concrete crosswalks and lighting along both sides of the street to match the Phase 1 street enhancement project on East Main St. which was done several years ago.

According to Jordan, the original project was approved for $321,000 in Federal funding and the town’s twenty percent match of $64,391 came from Anderson County Transportation Committee (ACTC) C-Fund money.

The current project was bid at about half that amount with construction cost of $154,516, SCDOT engineering expense of approximately $32,000 and inspection fee of $20,000 bringing the total cost of the project to approximately $206,516.

According to Jordan, a walk-thru was held in October of 2013 on plans that were resubmitted by the town.

Mayor Durham admitted Monday that he had submitted a plan which was drawn up by planner Blake Sanders and that SCDOT had taken the concept plan and engineered the current plan.

Sanders said he had submitted a concept plan to the mayor over a year ago but did not know if it was vetted by town officials or others formerly involved in the town’s streetscape projects before it was sent to SCDOT. According to Sanders, the concept plan was designed to add streetside parking for the park and increased walking in the downtown/park area.

Mayor Durham said Monday he had signed off on the changes as presented by SCDOT.

The mayor has stated downtown walkability is a part of his vision for the town and the current plan fits in with the mission statement of the Main Street Williamston Economic Development program the town has been implementing over the past year.

Durham said he is planning a meeting of local public safety officials and an expanded streetscape committee to look at the project and options to alleviate safety concerns and traffic problems. He said the recommendations will be presented to council at their March meeting.

The Town will then meet with SCDOT about any changes to the current plan or other options available.

The question of who will pay for any changes is also being asked.

There are some funds remaining from the original grant due to the current project being scaled back. If not spent on changes, the remaining grant funds will be returned to the FHWA with 20 percent of the amount coming back to the town.