Local lawmakers searching for solution to the ‘Suicide Merge’

by Bill Davis | News Editor

Everyone on Orange Grove Road can relax, for now, because there will be no traffic circle built next to the old Masonic Center.

County and city planners heard you loud and clear: the solution to traffic at the “suicide merge” of Old Towne Road and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard will not include a massive traffic circle abutting your neighborhoods.

Boy, were you loud and clear in public comments on the matter, according to County Councilman Brantley Moody, who lives in and represents the area.

Armed with public input, county planners are going back, literally, to the drawing boards to come up with a more nuanced solution to one of the most harrowing roadways in the area.

Moody says the plan will probably include a greenway cut through for pedestrians and cyclists along the same Sumar extension, in an effort to increase “connectivity” and “transportation options” for the neighborhoods.

The city and the county have expressed support for helping that stretch of town morph into a situation similar to the Avondale area, where locals can walk or bike up to stores and shops.

But why was the traffic circle, drawn to be an extension of Sumar Street alongside Taste of India, even considered in the first place?

Richard Turner, Deputy Director for Operations at Charleston County Transportation Development, says the city first championed it as a way of giving motorists an option of going from Old Towne onto Orange Grove, which snarls at drop-off and pick-up times at the two schools located blocks from each other there.

In order to go from Old Towne to Orange Grove, a motorist has to survive what locals have dubbed the “suicide merge,” and then has scant yards to make it over as many as three lanes of traffic to get to the left turning lane.

City Councilman Peter Shahid represents that area and says while the city wasn’t “pushing” for a circle, it did represent an interesting solution and had been successful along Mathis Ferry in Mount Pleasant.

“But, it’s not going to work,” he says, adding that planners need to keep looking “outside the box” for one of the area’s most vexing traffic problems.

County Planner Turner says they will take time for more plans, but the project is still on-schedule for finalizing plans as early as May. He says the project has been estimated to cost anywhere from $7 million to $13 million, depending on the plan.

Describing the plan goes beyond this publication’s ability with words, so please refer to Option D at this website www.sc7andsc171intersection.com/resources.

Mary Katherine James and Griffin Herbert had a front-row seat, literally, to the fight. The pair have rented Griffin’s grandfather’s house across the street from the First Christian Church, off Orange Grove Road. The young couple lives there, along with their 2-year-old and dog, both of whom they worry could have run out into heightened traffic.

Their neighbors, who own and have lived there longer than they, “freaked out” over the possibility of a traffic circle, says James. But, he says, it might not have been so terrible, as the plan would have given them a new, longer driveway. “As it is, sometimes we have to drive out through our yard traffic gets so bad in the morning and afternoon,” says Herbert.

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