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Traffic: Council members support Willbrook roundabout plan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

County Council members say they favor a proposed roundabout to accommodate school traffic on Willbrook Boulevard at Wildcat Way, but they are still awaiting details of the project. The county will hold a meeting next week to get public comment.

“All the studies show that roundabouts are much safer,” said Council Member John Thomas. “It will calm traffic going down Willbrook.”

Wildcat Way provides access to Waccamaw Intermediate and Waccamaw Middle schools, but it is a right-in, right-out intersection at Willbrook Boulevard. Traffic that wants to get to Highway 17 from the schools must head west to Reunion Drive in order to turn east on Willbrook. Some drivers looking for shortcuts have ended up on St. Paul Place in front of the Midway Fire and Rescue station, leading to concerns about access for emergency vehicles. The opening of the new Waccamaw Library on Willbrook Boulevard at St. Paul last month provided another route for school traffic trying to reach Highway 17.

The roundabout has support from property owners associations in the Willbrook area and from Midway.

“I’m generally in favor. I think it’s a good solution,” Council Member Steve Goggans said. “My reading and experience suggests that these things work.”

The intersection is on the border between Goggans’ and Thomas’ council districts. Both said constituents who have contacted them about the project are mostly in favor. Neither has seen more than a preliminary plan for the roundabout.

“The county is not as prepared as we would like,” Thomas said. “We may end up with two public meetings.”

The county has scheduled a public comment session for April 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Waccamaw Library. It will take written comments through May 7.

Consultants were conducting traffic counts at the intersection this week. “My phone started ringing before 7 o’clock,” Alan Walters, the safety director for the Georgetown County School District, said Tuesday. He was told people were “spying” on people driving to school.

John Hanick, a Willbrook resident who opposes the roundabout, was also at the intersection counting cars. He found 345 vehicles turned onto Wildcat from Willbrook between 7 and 8 a.m. with over half in coming between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. He also counted traffic at the Reunion Drive intersection with Wildcat Way. There were 280 vehicles turning onto Wildcat in an hour, over half in the 15 minute timeframe.

Hanick has questioned the cost of the project. It’s budgeted for $600,000, but the county has been told it could cost under $400,000. After looking at the traffic, he said, “We’re not solving the problem; we’re just moving it.”

Even if the roundabout keeps school traffic off St. Paul Place, that traffic will still back up at the intersection of Highway 17 and Willbrook Boulevard, Hanick said. And that will still block emergency vehicles.

“I can achieve better results for about $75,000,” he said. Hanick proposes routing school traffic to Highway 17 on Sandy Island Road. The $75,000 would pay to move the traffic signal at Boyle Drive to the Sandy Island/Trace Drive intersection, serving both school traffic from the west and North Litchfield to the east.

Thomas said Hanick’s alternative doesn’t meet state Department of Transportation standards for a traffic signal. He hopes to get details about the roundabout and its cost at a meeting with the project manager in advance of the public comment session. “I would like to have numbers that show the cost of a traditional left turn,” he said.

“A left turn would probably back traffic up,” Goggans said. “From a conceptual perspective, [a roundabout] solves a lot of problems.”

The engineering details of the roundabout are also important. “They have to be designed well,” Goggans said.

The council members say they are willing to listen to concerns about the project. But Goggans noted, “I would have to have more than anecdotal evidence. I’d want to see an expert present me with some facts that it would be more dangerous.”

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