Committee: Make Sea Pines Circle two lanes

The current configuration of the Sea Pines traffic circle at the intersection of Palmetto Bay Road, William Hilton Parkway, Greenwood Drive and Pope Avenue.
The current configuration of the Sea Pines traffic circle at the intersection of Palmetto Bay Road, William Hilton Parkway, Greenwood Drive and Pope Avenue. Submitted

A town committee decided Wednesday that the best way to alleviate traffic congestion in the Sea Pines Circle is to shrink the roundabout and add a second lane.

That option may sound familiar to long-time islanders and visitors, and it’s one that caused more headaches than relief, town engineer Darrin Shoemaker said at a meeting of the town’s Circle to Circle committee Wednesday. Still, the old two-lane format that caused years of complaints and collisions is now the town’s best chance at managing traffic in the corridor between Sea Pines Resort and the Coligny area, Shoemaker and committee members decided.

The year-old committee came to that conclusion Wednesday after nixing three other concepts: a fly-over or fly-under, either of which would cost least $20 million to $30 million, and a signalized intersection that would cost at least $3 million to $6 million.

All three options would dramatically change the look and feel of the south end. It would be maintained by reworking the existing roundabout, said Glenn Walters, a consultant with architectural firm Design Workshop, which is working with the committee.

“The darn thing works, and compared to a fly-over or a fly-under, it’s reasonable from a cost standpoint,” Walters said, referring to the concept’s price tag of at least $4 million to $5 million.

The committee will make a formal recommendation to Town Council as soon as this summer, along with any recommendations on new roads, walking paths, bike trails and beach access in the area from northern Palmetto Bay Road to Coligny Beach.

However, the roundabout is the committee’s biggest priority, said Shawn Colin, the town’s deputy director of community development.

It takes cars up to three minutes on average to travel through the circle during the busiest afternoon hours of the town’s summer tourism season, exceeding the town’s maximum allowed 2.5-minute total average delay, according to the town’s 2015 annual traffic report.

A two-lane roundabout would fix that, managing traffic through 2020 and coming close to meeting the town’s requirement into 2030, says Shoemaker. The designated right-turn lanes that already exist around the circle would remain.

The darn thing works.

Glenn Walters, Hilton Head consultant, referring to Sea Pines traffic circle

The old intersection’s two-lane design was a major source of complaints throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Shoemaker said, in part because drivers did not follow the rules. As a result, the inner lane was generally either empty or the site of confused tourists and wrecks.

“I used to joke that the only time we ever saw anybody in that inner lane was when the town hired somebody to study what to do with it,” Shoemaker said Wednesday.

When the town changed the circle to one lane in 2001, the total number of collisions fell 30 percent in the first year, he said.

Committee member Tom Sharp, a traffic and transportation specialist, said he was optimistic that bringing back a second lane — with better design, signage and road markings — would not increase the number of wrecks.

“More and more of our visitors will be familiar with a roundabout,” he said. “... So as we look into the future, we’ll have more ‘friendly’ users.”

But some of the 20 people who attended Wednesday’s meeting were more wary. George Paletta, a board member of Neighborhood Outreach Connection, cautioned the group against comparing the Sea Pines traffic circle to the two Bluffton circles on S.C. 46, at Bluffton Parkway and at S.C. 170.

“We’re dealing with a different population,” Paletta said. “We’re dealing with tourists here for four to six months of the year.”

The committee next meets on April 20 and 27 to discuss potential new road and trail connections.

Roundabouts, used in place of stop signs and traffic signals, are a type of circular intersection that can significantly improve traffic flow and safety, according to the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In this 2010 video, IIHS ex

Rebecca Lurye: 843-706-8155, @IPBG_Rebecca

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