The city is considering a solution to twice-a-day traffic jams around Beaufort Elementary School, where driveways and streets are blocked for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
Drop-off and pick-up traffic at the school increased in the fall, when the school expanded its Montessori program and absorbed some students displaced by the closing of Shell Point Elementary. Beaufort Elementary's enrollment increased by about 100 students.
The city has discussed the traffic problem with school officials, neighboring residents, and the S.C. Department of Transportation, city manager Scott Dadson said.
The city wants to make a southbound section of Pilot Street one-way, so drivers would no longer clog North Street as they try to turn on to Pilot, according to city planner Libby Anderson. In addition, the Prince Street exit from the school's rear parking lot could become right-turn only, she said.
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"If you've got one person trying to make a left turn out of there, they can't do it and basically seal off the lot," Anderson said.
City Councilman George O'Kelley Jr., who lives on North Street by the school, was concerned the one-way street would merely push the traffic jam down to Glebe Street. "But," he added, "it would at least give one more block to absorb that."
Like most city roads, Pilot Street is owned by the state, so the DOT would need to approve the changes. Anderson said the DOT's initial response was typical of instances in which a city wants to make road changes -- it wants the city to take over the street.
Councilman Mike Sutton said the city should push back and ask the DOT to allow the changes without handing over ownership. If the state refuses, he said, the city should put up directional signs, with or without DOT's permission.
"Damn the torpedoes," he said. "If we need signs, we'll put signs up. If they take them down, we'll put more signs up."
The new traffic patterns could be tried for a trial period to determine if they work.
Anderson said the next step was to present the ideas to school officials and neighbors. Police Chief Matt Clancy said the school district has tried to ease the congestion by realigning and adding parking.
Part of the solution could also be simply instructing parents to follow the proposed route, which Dadson said could be done with the assistance of the school's parent-teacher association and school staff.
Police Officer Sean Alford said that now that construction on Bladen Street has ended, parents leaving the school could travel a few blocks east before heading south to Bay Street. That could relieve some of the traffic in the school's immediate vicinity.
"We have implemented everything we felt we were capable of doing on our own," district facilities director Robert Oetting said, adding the district wants to work with the city to solve the problem. "... Unfortunately, we've run out of room to do anything on our property."
Other possible solutions included adding a turn lane on Prince Street and on-street parking on Pilot Street. Both projects also would need DOT approval.