A Blue Ridge Roundabout . . .

Though rumors have been flying for months, I received formal notice from our state Department of Transportation (DOT) this past Wednesday that they were starting the process of building a traffic circle where North McElhaney Road meets Highway 101 at Lake Cunningham Fire Department.

Let me say that again . . . DOT wants to build a traffic circle on Hwy 101 . . . beside the fire station. Visions of nocturnal short track racing started dancing in my head.

I talked with Chief Travis Balliew at Lake Cunningham Fire Department to discuss his concerns. I called Sen. Tom Corbin and met with him and DOT on Thursday regarding the project. Here’s DOT’s rationale –

The federal government gave them a grant to be used only for a safety improvement project. This means that the federal government will pay 90% of the cost; the state will pay 10% of the cost. Well . . . that means that they will borrow 90% . . .

DOT determined that this particular place on 101 met the requirements of the grant. According to their numbers, 32 accidents have happened at that junction in the last 6 years. I reminded them that stop lights had been installed since then. I asked DOT if they had the accident count starting just 3 years back. They are researching those facts.

We discussed the possible impact on the fire station’s ability to respond to calls and the impact the circle would have on the flow of traffic, especially with the new houses being built between there and Blue Ridge High School. We also learned that DOT has already built a traffic circle near the fire station in Conestee and claim that it has worked out fine. We are confirming that statement.

My other concern lies with the expenditure of scarce transportation dollars for unneeded projects. If they are looking for a safety hazard, they only need go down 101 where it meets Milford Church Road. Now, that’s a hazardous intersection in the mornings. School buses have a hard time making that turn, much less fire trucks.

Finally, we discussed that the delay in completing the Memorial Drive Extension bridge replacement had become a major issue with our residents. To put it bluntly, we told DOT to fix the bridge before starting a roundabout.

After the meeting, I called Sen. Tim Scott’s office to determine how hard it would be to redirect the safety funds to another project in my district, if it is warranted. They are researching it, but not before expressing surprise at a traffic circle on 101. “You are kidding!” was the phrase that sticks in my mind.

This project illustrates my frustration with DOT and the lack of communication with elected officials. To be fair, DOT acted quickly to meet with us once I contacted them. However, Sen. Corbin and I received notice just two weeks before DOT is scheduled to purchase the right of way for the project. This gives us very little time to act in the best interest of our constituents.

DOT never discussed the project with Chief Balliew at Lake Cunningham or any of his fire commissioners. DOT assured us that the fire trucks would have no issue leaving the fire station and getting through the circle. But a little consideration goes a long way.

Sen. Scott’s office had no idea that the grant funds were being spent on a traffic circle on 101.

The traffic circle may be the best idea since somebody put salt on grits but communication before the project starts is necessary to its acceptance. I am not a traffic engineer and I don’t want to interfere with a project that might actually even out the traffic flow down 101 and make our travel safer. But when every elected official from the fire commissioner to the U.S. Senator has been left out of the conversation, trust becomes an issue.

We have another meeting scheduled to discuss the project before Febraury.

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