The no-frills roundabout at S.C. 46 and Bluffton Parkway, with its orange cones and minimalist approach to traffic engineering, has always had the air of impermanence.
But for four years now, Bluffton drivers have abided this unflinching statement of function over fashion.
By this fall, though, the orange cones could be gone.
The S.C. Department of Transportation is set to widen the circle to two lanes and install grass medians with concrete curbs to channel traffic into turn and through lanes, said John Boylston, a DOT engineer overseeing the project.
Grass also will be planted in the center of the circle, with a concrete curb placed around it, he said.
Boylston predicted work on the circle will be completed by late fall. The entire widening project for S.C. 46 should be finished by Dec. 15, he said.
Before the circle was built, stop signs marked an intersection created in 2004, when the section of Bluffton Parkway connecting Simmonsville Road to S.C. 46 was completed. But only drivers traveling east or west on the parkway had to stop there, and almost immediately, residents began complaining that the configuration was causing accidents.
"It was horrible," Town Council member Mike Raymond said. "No one knew what to do when they pulled up there."
The DOT made the intersection a four-way stop in response to 16 crashes there.
The roundabout, installed in 2006, was supposed to be a temporary measure, to be replaced by a traffic light when S.C. 46 was widened. But it proved so popular with residents -- cones and all -- that in 2007, the DOT decided to make it permanent, Boylston said.
Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister said the number of accidents there appears to have declined, but figures were not immediately available.
It's not clear what, if any, other aesthetic touches will be added to the circle's center.
Arthur O'Kelly, a commercial superintendent for Rea Contracting, said his crew will install electrical conduits to allow for street lights.
Town engineer Karen Jarrett said the town has no plans to landscape the circle's center.
Raymond said he would favor a landscaping project, if the town can afford it.
"I don't want to see an ugly asphalt circle," he said. "Nobody does, but times are lean. We can only do what we can afford to do."
Some Bluffton residents have design ideas for the roundabout.
"I think it should be a fountain made of recycled materials, and the water would recycle itself," said Leslie Rohland, owner of The Cottage Cafe, Bakery and Tea Room on Calhoun Street. The fountain "would put it in people's consciousness" to focus on improving recycling in the town.
Mirek Kulesza, owner of the Bluffton Jewel Box on May River Road, said the circle should remain simple and without distractions.
"It's ... built to slow down traffic," he said, "though some people don't even slow down. My concern is safety, not something that looks nice."