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Roads: Willbrook roundabout plan draws criticism

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Plans for a roundabout on Willbrook Boulevard to improve access to schools and the new branch library have raised opposition among some residents who say the concept is flawed. Georgetown County is working on a design for the intersection with Wildcat Way, which is currently restricted to right turns, after officials got approval from the leaders of area homeowners groups last fall.

Bill McElroy, president of the Litchfield by the Sea Community Association, said he was surprised by the support of those groups. “My opinion would not have been the same as theirs,” he said. “I think it’s a waste of money to build it.”

John Hanick, a resident of Willbrook Plantation, wrote County Council Members John Thomas and Steve Goggans saying there are alternatives that will cost less and be safer than a roundabout. “The roundabout concept has problems,” he said in an interview, adding that he has spoken with others who feel the same way.

Access to Wildcat Way was restricted when Waccamaw Intermediate School opened in 2008 because residents claimed left turns would create congestion. Frank D’Amato, president of the homeowners association at the Tradition Club, was among them. But that restriction has led to people making illegal and unsafe U-turns in the neighborhood’s streets and driveways, he said. One resident’s mailbox has been run over twice by turning vehicles, D’Amato said.

“This roundabout is going to benefit the school and all those people who live up and down Willbrook Boulevard,” he said.

With Waccamaw Library opening next month and the county developing offices at Litchfield Exchange, traffic is only going to increase, said Bob Plowden, president of the homeowners association at The Reserve. He hasn’t heard any objections to the roundabout. “People are waiting to see what it looks like and learn more about it,” he said.

The county’s timetable for the project calls for a public meeting in April to take comments. Construction would start in October. The project is estimated to cost about $300,000, which would be taken from county road impact fees.

Hanick points out that the state Department of Transportation spent an average of $711,000 on nine roundabout projects. He doesn’t object to left-turn access at Willbrook and Wildcat, but thinks a simpler arrangement would allow some of that money to be spent on road repairs. Mark Hoeweler, a traffic planner at Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments and a Tradition Club resident, said the Willbrook project will cost less because it is a county rather than a state project.

Hanick also suggests that a traffic light at Highway 17 and Sandy Island Road would give school traffic a safer outlet onto the highway. The county has sought a signal at that intersection in the past, but it is too close to the signal at Boyle Drive to meet DOT rules. “The answer to that is, ‘You’re putting two in where you’re doing the median [at Pawleys Island] and you put another one in at short notice at Lowe’s” supermarket, McElroy said.

McElroy also favors left-turn access for the schools and library, but said rather than a roundabout, a signal at Wildcat Way that flashes yellow except during morning and afternoon drive-time at the schools would be cheaper. A signal on Highway 17 at Sandy Island Road would also help slow traffic through the area, he said.

D’Amato said speeding is also an issue on Willbrook Boulevard. “A roundabout is going to force them to slow down,” he said.

Plowden said that will become increasingly important as Willbrook Boulevard becomes a route to bypass traffic on Highway 17 through Pawleys Island.

McElroy shares that concern. “People that live in the greater Litchfield by the Sea area don’t realize how much traffic comes down Kings River Road just to avoid Highway 17,” he said. “It’s going to be worse when they start building the median” in the Pawleys business district. He believes the roundabout will become a point of gridlock when school traffic is heaviest.

Goggans, who was involved in planning Waccamaw Intermediate and the adjacent Waccamaw Middle School, said he’ll reserve judgement until he sees the county’s plan. He noted that Mount Pleasant has several roundabouts and “they seem to be working well.”

He and Thomas think a traffic signal at Sandy Island Road and Highway 17 would be a help. It would also serve North Litchfield via Trace Drive. “It really comes down to a question of what’s the design everybody can agree on,” said Thomas, who has worked as a traffic engineer. “I think we have an education challenge here.”

Paving to park waits on state | Georgetown County is awaiting state approval to begin work that will pave the road from Martin Luther King Road to Stables Park. It’s a process that started over a year ago, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

The state Department of Transportation approved $850,000 to improve the intersection at Martin Luther King and Petigru Drive, but the county has to fund the paving to the park. DOT has to approve the county as the project manager, Hemingway said. “We are right at the final line of that certification process,” he said. “We can go out and design the job, bid the job and manage the construction.”

The state portion is in DOT’s local budget for 2016.

Bike path phase finishes | The new phase of the Bike the Neck path along Kings River and Waverly roads will be completed next week, according to the project manager for the state Department of Transportation.

The project was delayed because a sewer line had to be moved at the site of a bridge along Kings River Road, said Kit Scott. The completion date is Feb. 6.

The total project cost $1.3 million, with the bridge itself costing $380,000. The portion along Waverly Road to Waccamaw Elementary was funded through a $250,000 grant.

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