By Chris Marchewka
This summer has brought more than just heat to the Isle of Palms. The swelling number of beachgoers understandably creates more traffic, but delays in getting on and off the IOP Connector have been exceptionally awful; noticeably between the intersections at Rifle Range Rd. and Hungryneck Blvd. This bumper to bumper waiting game has raised some concerns with residents and City Council is hard at work on finding a solution.
“My concern is the safety issue,” said Council member Mike Loftus, who’s aware of the inconvenience of the traffic, but is more concerned about what it could mean in an emergency. “If public safety officials need to get on or off the island at a peak time when a lot of people are leaving the beach, it could become a significant safety problem,” Loftus said.
As the height of hurricane season approaches his concerns are certainly grounded, but plans to expand the congested area of the Connector to four lanes will likely have to wait until next year. Though citizens would certainly prefer otherwise, coordinating a project like this with Mount Pleasant and the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) typically takes a long time. Mayor Cronin recently met with Mayor Smith of Mount Pleasant to discuss a possible future lane expansion at the trouble intersections.
“They [Mount Pleasant] have a lot more traffic problems than just the Connector, but they do realize that the road will ultimately need to be widened to handle the flow. It hasn’t reached the point of actual design or funding, so we’re trying to encourage them to move it higher up on their list of priorities,” Cronin said. “I and the Council will stay on this because it’s a problem that’s just going to grow over time.”
Mayor Cronin and the Council also have another front on the traffic battle. The future of the intersection at Palm Boulevard and 41st Avenue has been up in the air since it was turned to a three-way stop last fall. Several ideas were floated since then, including a stoplight or even reverting back to a two-way stop. What seems certain is that the end of Cameron Street will be permanently closed. It’s added to the confusion at the intersection and residents of Cameron seem to be pleased with the change.
“We’ve had some residents come before the Public Safety Committee and actually say they like it closed off. They were getting a lot of bypass traffic down the street, but with it closed off, the traffic cleaned up and the residents feel better about it,” Mayor Cronin said. He’ll pursue formally closing off the street with the SCDOT, as well as explore the possibility of building a roundabout in place of the intersection, although that may prove to be a tricky operation. Space is at a premium and the minimum requirements to build a roundabout might include condemning property.
“I expect as a minimum we’ll finalize closing off Cameron after the Department of Transportation gets back to us and then proceed making permanent the two stop signs on 41st Avenue, to the marina and from the marina, so we can clean up that intersection,” Cronin said.
Given the nature of decision making at the DOT, (something like the connector at five on a Saturday afternoon), Isle of Palms will just have to wait and see.