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Inlet intersection due for county's first roundabout

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

By this time next year, the quaint fishing village of Murrells Inlet will have a dash of European flair when the state Department of Transportation finishes construction of the first roundabout in Georgetown County at the intersection of Wachesaw Road and Old Kings Highway.

DOT completed roundabouts in Horry and Lexington counties this year. The Murrells Inlet project is one of four others planned around the state.

“We’re just getting started putting them in,” said Keith Riddle, a safety projects engineer for DOT. “We look for intersections with higher-than-average crash rates. This showed up on the radar.”

Accident records show 14 crashes at the intersection in three years. In all of them, the vehicles collided at right angles, Riddle said.

DOT considered a traffic signal at the intersection, but it didn’t meet the agency’s criteria.

“Also, you see an increase in rear-end crashes” at stop lights, he said.

The roundabout will guide traffic around a center circle in a counter-clockwise direction. Vehicles enter the roundabout at a shallow angle, yielding to vehicles already in the roundabout. A car headed south on Old Kings Highway that wanted to turn east on Wachesaw Road heading to Bypass 17, would turn right into the roundabout, follow it three-quarters of the way around and turn right out of the roundabout.

Roundabouts are considered safer than four-way intersections because they eliminate left turns across oncoming traffic.

And, unlike a traffic light, cars don’t idle at the intersection when the signal is red.

“It’s a greener option,” Riddle said. “We expect people to really like it.”

DOT estimates it will cut the number of accidents by 50 percent and cut the number of crashes with injuries by 90 percent.

“It threw us for a little bit of a loop,” said Mark Hoeweler, the planner for the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study. It allocates state funds to projects in Georgetown and Horry counties. “It was not one of our intersection projects.”

But since funding will come directly from DOT, it’s one more intersection improvement that won’t take anything away from projects on the local list.

“We’re thrilled,” Hoeweler said.

The roundabout is will cost $700,000 to build. DOT has started acquiring additional right-of-way at the intersection, which could add up to $200,000 to the project, according to Riddle.

“A roundabout is more expensive than a signal,” he said. “There will be some repaving in the project area.”

Concrete islands will be built on the lanes leading into the roundabout to guide traffic.

The center will be grassed. Over the long term, the roundabout will save money by cutting down on accidents, Riddle said.

The public perception of roundabouts, which are more common in Europe than the U.S., is usually negative at first, he said. DOT sent notices to adjacent property owners and hasn’t heard any complaints.

“It takes some getting used to,” Riddle said. “It feels kind of natural. People pick up on it pretty quickly.”

DOT is now acquiring right-of-way. The project schedule calls for construction to start in May and finish by November 2011.

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