Neighbors vs. Numbers

J.I. Elementary hosts county legislatives for delegation meeting dominated by discussion of SCDOT, safety at nearby South Grimball and Folly Road intersection

By Charlie Morrison | Community Editor

Driving southbound down Folly Road in the direction of Folly Beach and home, you sigh a sigh of relief as the traffic signal at North Grimball Road, the last on your way to the beach, retreats into your rear-view mirror. As your round the turn at the roadway’s un-signalized intersection with Signal Point Rd., the five-lane Folly Road seems to open up. As such, you accelerate, you speedometer approaching 45 mph and climbing. Cruising now, you don’t notice the large South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) sign topped by a blinking, yellow light, that indicates to southbound drivers 500 feet in advance that they are approaching an un-signalized intersection, that of South Grimball Rd. You also miss the next sign, one indicating that the right turn at the intersection leads to James Island Elementary School (JIES).Charleston Del. 1Though you begin to relax, trouble looms ahead at the South Grimball Road intersection. There another driver, attempting to turn left from South Grimball on to busy Folly Road, sits, his neck craning out in an attempt to see the oncoming traffic. An overgrown, chain link fence running alongside Folly Road’s western side all the way to the intersection obstructs both vehicles from each other, and though you see him at only the last second, you swerve, the two vehicles by mere inches avoiding a deadly, T-bone style collision.

According to both residents of the Grimball Road neighborhood and representatives from the South Grimball Road-based James Island Elementary School, this scenario is one that plays out each and every day and is one all too common, even for James Island’s principal transportation artery.

“It doesn’t matter which way you go,” says Jewel Brown, a lifelong resident of Grimball Road and Grimball Road Ext. whose dealt with navigating the intersection from literally both sides, having moved from her childhood home of the Grimball Road loop across Folly Road where she now lives. “Obviously turning left, but even turning right, or driving across the road to where I live now on Grimball Road Ext. is dangerous … period.”

And while both the school, area residents, and local politicians have made each made separate, repeated overtures to the SCDOT to signalize the intersection, however in each and every case, statistics collected by the SCDOT traffic studies do not meet the minimum statistical requirements for the body to take action and signalize the intersection.

SCDOT District 6 Engineering Administrator Robert Clark said as much when asked to present the body’s take on the situation at recent meeting of the 21-member First Congressional Legislative Delegation, the collection of elected officials who represent Charleston County in Columbia, as state legislators. The meeting, held at JIES’ auditorium a few weeks back on July 19, was called by Joint Delegation Chairman Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, offered the body the opportunity to question Clark about the SCDOT’s ability to be flexible when it comes to South Grimball and Folly.

Clark was repeatedly questioned by delegation members as to why despite what was a clear, overwhelming outcry by the public for the traffic light, the body so doggedly stick to the statistics in determining the merits of cases such as that of Grimball and Folly, why they seemingly ignore intangible realities such as, in this case, both the presence of nearby JIES and the impending construction of the Cooper James Mixed-Use development across the intersection in the near future.

Some questioned the body’s foresight. “Why did this (intersection) not raise flags for future problems? Why not put this in when we can see the units coming,” questioned Sen. Paul Thurmond, before yielding to House Dist. 110 Rep. Chip Limehouse, who summed up the body’s take on the issue . “In a democracy, what the people want always needs to be taken into account. It is very clear that everyone involved wants the light, and that needs to be taken into account,” he said.

A September, 2012 traffic impact analysis conducted by Ridgeway Traffic Engineering as part of the City of Charleston’s vetting of the Cooper James Mixed-Use development does shed some light on the impact growth will have on the intersection, with respect to traffic. According to Ridgeway, and in accordance with the nationally accepted ‘Manual on Uniform Traffic -Control Devices (MUTCD),’ the intersection fails to satisfy a number of criterion for the installation of a signal.

One such criteria relates to crashes. The MUTCD “requires a minimum of five reported crashes occurring in a 12-month period of the type that could be preventable by the installation of a traffic signal.” The study further reported that over a three-year period from September, 2009 until September, 2012 the intersection “did not reveal a pattern of crashes that satisfied the warrant criteria.”

And while the report did make mention of the notorious collision of a vehicle with a left-turning school bus at the intersection, it didn’t mention the T-bone accident that claimed the life of the son of Katherine Nicklaus, an area resident who made an impassioned plea for the SCDOT to look beyond the numbers in their evaluation of the intersection and see that there is an intangible danger there, partially caused by beach fever, that can’t be quantified but does raise the risk for such accidents. “All it takes is one,” reminded an emotion Nicklaus.

All four S.C. House Representatives who, in March, filed a joint resolution directing the SCDOT to signalize the intersection, Peter McCoy, Wendell Gilliard, Leon Stavrinakis, and Limehouse, backed up their sponsorship by addressing Clark and the SCDOT. In the end, the Joint Delegation voted unanimously to issue a formal request from the body to the SCDOT to signalize the intersection.

And while the future remains uncertain when it comes to the SCDOT’s stance on common sense-based decision making, particularly in the case of the intersection of South Grimball and Folly Roads, momentum is building for change at that location.

For more information on the Delegation, click here.

3 thoughts on “Neighbors vs. Numbers

  1. It is interesting to note that SCDOT claims that this dangerous intersection does not warrant traffic signalization, which could potentially be paid for 100% by federal funding if designated a “safety” project. However, SCDOT is willing to destroy a neighborhood with a “free” roundabout at the intersection of Camp Road and Riverland Drive, which is far less hazardous. Again, there is not enough volume to warrant signalization per SCDOT, but apparently enough statistical manipulation to warrant a major project paid for with federal dollars.

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