A Cry to Consider Context
Local, state leaders lambast SCDOT for Grimball Ext./Folly traffic signal report, lack of flexibility on signalizing intersection
By Charlie Morrison
In September, following requests made from the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD), the City of Charleston, and the Town of James Island, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) conducted an official traffic study of the intersection of Folly Road and Grimball Road Extension. The results of that study, the third SCDOT has done on the intersection in recent years, echoed those of the two prior reports in finding the data regarding traffic counts and collisions at the intersection did not warrant the signalization. However, many residents of the area, officials from nearby James Island Elementary School (JIES), and a host of legislators and elected officials disagree.
JIES Principal Deborah Davis-Fickling hosted the meeting last Friday to try and convince SCDOT’s regional District Traffic Engineer Mark Nesbit, who was on hand, that numbers don’t tell the entire story when it comes to the intersection. In doing so, a coalition of area elected officials and legislators began the process of turning up the political heat on the state-run organization until the intersection is signalized.
“We’ve look at the intersection, we’ve looked at the collision history, we’ve looked at the volumes, and as of last September, based on our review the numbers just weren’t there to warrant the traffic signal,” said Nesbit in presenting the SCDOT’s position. “I looked at the numbers every which way I could because I wanted to be able to say the traffic signal was warranted based on our normal review procedures, but as of last September it wasn’t there.”
S.C. House District 119 Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, who took the lead in calling the meeting, seemed to capture the mood of the room in regards to Nesbit and the SCDOT’s seeming rigid reliance on statistics in making decisions.
“It doesn’t matter what the study says … real life takes hold, real life takes precedence,” said Stavrinakis. “This is as complete and organized an effort in Charleston County that I’ve seen in a long time and we’re just saying that we need this light … We need it yesterday.”
City of Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. agreed with Stavrinakis that the use of statistics alone in analyzing the intersection is flawed.
“We all know from our own anecdotal experience that people are haulin’ boogie down that road,” said Riley. “The last thing anyone here wants and the last thing the SCDOT wants is a traffic fatality there involving anyone … but especially the schoolchildren, their parents, or grandparents going to and from school. We really feel that this is an urgent matter.
“The dangers that are existing there now merit the SCDOT to authorize the traffic signal, and I’m not going to rest ’till we get (it),” said Riley, who backed his comments with a final threat all too familiar to James Island residents, in saying “a (law)suit is possible.”
And while Riley’s position certainly carried weight with the room, it was James Island Town Councilman Leonard Blank who put the issue truly in weighing what was being discussed. “I don’t like the idea of telling people who have lost a loved one like a child or a grandchild, that the area where they were killed is dangerous but it didn’t meet the y’all’s criteria because there weren’t enough crashes there, and I’ve heard that before,” said Blank. “That’s a poor excuse to give somebody who’s lost a loved one,” he concluded, to a rousing applause from the room.
Several in attendance had made reference to a number of factors not included in the SCDOT study, including natural line-of-sight issues that are further hindered by the presence of fencing at the intersection, the fact that the report didn’t account for summer beach traffic, the lack of accounting for the proposed residential development planned for the corner of Folly and Grimball Road Extension, and the possibility a future bus lot might be located on Grimball Road across from JIES.
When asked what he was planning on doing in response to the public outcry he’d heard at Friday’s meeting, Nesbit promised to revisit the issue. Should he be able to present a case for the immediate future, growth of the area, Nesbit reported, he might be able to work beyond the numbers and get approval to install a signal at the intersection.
“I’m going to look at the study, if the growth you’re referring to projects out 6-8 years, that may be a little long. If it’s shorter than that, that’s something we could consider,” said Nesbit. “If it looks like (the area’s growth) is projecting out in the near future, I think you might have a good case.”
© 2013 Wiser Time Publishing, Inc.