Could adding new roundabouts, medians, turn lanes and connections between side streets and main thoroughfares help ease traffic on Lady’s Island?
A study recently presented to members of a local planning board suggests it’s possible.
The city of Beaufort contracted last year with engineering and consulting firms Ward Edwards and Stantec for a traffic study focused on the Sea Island Parkway corridor from the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge to the Chowan Creek Bridge.
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Bret Gillis of Stantec recently unveiled preliminary findings and recommendations from the study to members of the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan Implementation Committee. That board includes elected officials from the City of Beaufort, Town of Port Royal and Beaufort County, as well as representatives from other county planning panels.
One of the study’s recommendations includes the construction of a series of small roundabouts at intersections such as the one at Miller Drive and Sunset Boulevard.
With that type of feature, “you wouldn’t have the backups” created by stop signs or traffic lights, he said.
If vehicles enter and exit a roundabout smoothly, it can result in ideal conditions where “speeds are slow but consistent,” he said.
While some critics find them difficult to maneuver, proponents of roundabouts — also known as traffic circles — argue they are an effective means of reducing the severity of accidents by curtailing head-on and T-bone collisions.
Between 2012 and 2015, there were 541 crashes — 180 collisions with at least one person injured —and two fatal wrecks on roadways within the study area, Gillis said.
Safety could be improved by adding traffic-calming features such as raised medians or landscaped barriers along the shoulders of roadways, he said.
These elements create “visual cues (that) make the driver feel like they are supposed to drive slower,” Gillis said.
Currently, the island’s system of residential roads and side streets funnel drivers toward the busy intersection at Sea Island Parkway and Sams Point Road, he said.
“You could add new connections throughout the (neighborhoods adjacent to that intersection) … to help open things up and ease the traffic problems” by allowing drivers to bypass that intersection, he said.
Backups at traffic lights at major intersections could be reduced by adding dedicated turn lanes, Gillis said.
Gillis’s presentation did not include any cost estimates for the recommended improvements.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling told the committee that local leaders ought to use lessons learned during the city’s ongoing $33 million Boundary Street overhaul and do meticulous planning before jumping into any new project.
Without sufficient planning, “the costs of the specifics (of a project) can just mushroom,” he said.
The study — which cost about $88,000 and was paid for mainly using impact fees from the Lady’s Island Wal-Mart project — also looked at concepts deemed unlikely to be effective.
Building new bridges to the island would be extremely costly and “tough to justify” to taxpayers, Gillis said.
Adding flyovers to improve access to major roadways would be “completely out of character for the area” and logistically very difficult to build, he said.
Widening main arterial roads with additional lanes “would be expensive, and the impacts would be high,” Gillis said. “You’re going to take out buildings; you’re going to take out parking spaces.”
Beaufort County Councilman Bryan Flewelling said, regardless of whether local leaders ultimately adopt any of these recommendations, traffic issues may persist on Lady’s Island.
An improved transportation network could prime the area for more development and therefore more vehicles — offsetting any progress made toward reducing traffic, he said.
While the consultants were conducting their study, personnel with the Coastal Conservation League and the Sea Island Corridor Coalition held a series of forums and meetings with locals to get their input on a host of issues, including transportation and traffic.
“We’ve had some really creative ideas,” said conservation league project manager Rikki Parker. “We’ve had folks propose water taxis, bus lines — just incredible ideas that may not be reflected” in formal studies.
The county and city are in the early stages of launching another Lady’s Island study — one that would take a more holistic look at planning and development in the area.