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The route and the road diet

Part Two: Bumps in the road

Posted: August 2, 2018 3:31 p.m.
Updated: August 3, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) contractors work Monday at the corner of the intersection on Liberty Hill Road where Springdale Drive becomes Boykin Road and connects with U.S. 521 North in the distance as other crews work along the right side of Boykin Road. The work here and on Springdale Drive is one part of a project to create an enforceable truck route away from Camden’s downtown district. SCDOT suspended work in 2017 for a period of time after running into issues concerning rights-of-ways.

More than six and a half years ago, in January 2012, the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) held a public information meeting regarding a proposed enforceable truck route for the city of Camden and a subsequent “road diet” for Broad Street. The idea -- actually dating back decades and, in its current form, to 2008 -- was to get heavy truck traffic out of Camden’s downtown district so that Broad Street between DeKalb and York streets could be reduced to one lane in each direction with other amenities to make the area more walkable.

Then, and again at a full public hearing six months later, SCDOT’s plans for the truck route -- part of South Carolina’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program -- were for it to be handled in three phases.

Plans for the northwest phase (Segment 1) included some changes to Springdale Drive, but the most extensive were for where Springdale becomes Boykin Road at Liberty Hill Road and over to U.S. 521 North.

The southwest phase (Segment 2) included widening the entire length of Ehrenclou Drive from South Broad Street (U.S. 521) to York Street where it becomes Chesnut Ferry Extension by Camden High School (CHS). That part of the plan also included widening Chesnut Ferry Extension to West DeKalb Street.

Original proposals for the southeast phase (Segment 3) would have targeted Bull and Mill streets, but were later changed to York and Rippondon streets to connect to East DeKalb Street (U.S. 1).

As for the road diet, SCDOT and representatives from the city’s engineering firm, URS, offered several alternatives designated 1, 1A, 2 and 2A. Alternative 1A appeared to gain the most traction. It proposed, as the other alternatives did, to redesign the intersection of Broad and DeKalb streets so that Broad Street’s northbound and southbound left turn lanes would be exactly opposite each other, allowing people to turn left from both directions simultaneously.

The difference came with parking: 1, 2 and 2A all came with reductions in parking; 1A added parking spaces.

At the July 2012 public hearing, officials said work on the truck route would begin in 2014 and hopefully end in summer 2016. Then, and only then, would work begin on the Broad Street road diet.

Things didn’t quite turn out that way.

Staging the diet

In May 2013, people still thought work on the road diet might begin three years later, in 2016. During a city council meeting that month, a URS representative explained that -- whenever it started -- the road diet would be done in four stages and take 18 months to complete.

The design phase of the road diet had been completed the previous month and submitted to the city and SCDOT. It followed three overarching principles: a) that the affected portion of Broad Street be safe and functional, b) that it be “inviting and unique,” and c) be “vibrant and viable.” The diet, as now envisioned, would not just encompass slower speeds, but an actual better flow of traffic, increase in parking spaces, trees placed so as not to interfere with retail signage, and decorative mid-block crosswalks. Where the 2012 estimates placed the number of parking spaces at 80, already an increase from an existing 71, URS now estimated there would be a total of 87 -- a gain of 16 spaces. Angled parking, if any, would be limited to an area between Clyburn Lane and York Street.

Stage 1 would last eight to 10 weeks, focusing strictly on the center of the roadway, with outside lanes of traffic open and all on-street parking available.

Stage 2 would last six to seven months with the center portion essentially complete, and construction focusing on the west side of the road; traffic would flow in both directions on the east side of the roadway, which is also where the only on-street parking would be available.

Stage 3 would “flip” Stage 2 from the west to the east side of the road and take about the same length of time to complete.

Stage 4 would last four to six weeks, with everything open, but would include adding the final topcoat to the roadway and installing planting materials.

Despite proposing that the work be done in stages, some people, especially business owners and managers whose shops front Broad Street, were still skeptical. At a May 2013 Camden City Council meeting, former Mayor Tony Scully said that more than half of the Camden Business Alliance’s (CBA) members were against the plan. Former Councilman Willard Polk said he was concerned that short-term construction impacts could have long-term implications for small businesses, putting them out of business.

At the same meeting, CBA leaders said they were beginning to feel more informed and “better” about some of their concerns thanks to URS’ presentation, which was repeated at one of their meetings in early June 2013. However, after that meeting took place, about 60 percent of CBA members who voted in a straw poll said they were still not in favor, or had serious reservations about the Broad Street road diet, despite URS’ presentation. CBA’s president at the time, Jonathan Bazinet, offered an alternative: using paint to define striped crosswalks for pedestrians and to create turning lanes at the main intersection, along with some other beautification efforts.

Seventy percent of the CBA members liked Bazinet’s ideas.

As it turned out, nearly two years went by without any work starting on either the truck route or the road diet.

In April 2015, city council authorized construction and improvements for the truck route, with the first of the three phases scheduled to start that August and then the second and third phases a year after that. That would have meant work on Broad Street could have begun this year.

A month later, in May 2015, council voted 4-1 to approve a resolution to apply for a $5 million TIGER II grants for the road diet.

About another five months later, the Kershaw County Transportation Committee voted to provide $500,000 in gas tax-generated “C-funds” for the truck route. This brought available funds for the truck route project to approximately $4 million.

Twists and turns

But it would be nearly another nine months for SCDOT contractors to begin working on the truck route.

In summer 2015, the Kershaw County School District agreed to easement requests from SCDOT for Segment 2. Most of what the agency asked for were temporary easements -- the space in which to work on improvements. Permanent easements SCDOT sought included a portion of the intersection at Wylie and York streets; a triangle-shaped section of the northwestern portion of the student parking lot where Chesnut Ferry Extension becomes York Street at Ehrenclou Drive; two small easements along Ehrenclou Drive adjacent to its new athletic complex across from Camden High School; and another inside the complex itself.

SCDOT had already been purchasing, and was continuing to purchase, easements from private landowners along all segments of the truck route.

At the September 2015 city council meeting during which the C-funds from the county transportation were announced, City Manager Mel Pearson said that as staff researched utility rights-of- way along the truck route that would need to be relocated, they discovered about half of those rights-of-way originally belonged to the city. In addition, having the C-funds added to SCDOT’s money meant there would be funding enough to move any utilities while incorporating improvements and upgrades into the work.

Finally, in mid-February 2016, SCDOT began widening a section of Springdale Drive and all of Boykin Road between Knights Hill Road and U.S. 521 North as Segment 1 got underway. SCDOT’s contractor, Cherokee Inc., put out a press release stating that part of the route should be completed by May 2017.

According to Cherokee’s press release, the work was to include the intersecting and side streets of Liberty Hill Road, Sunny Hill Drive, Beard Street and Woodward Street, and include clearing, installing storm drainage, placing fill materials, grading and traffic signal work.

However, work was delayed as SCDOT had to deal with rights-of-way issues and other issues.

By February 2017, work was virtually, if not actually, at a standstill. During a council meeting late that month, City Public Works Director Tom Couch said work along the Springdale Drive/Boykin Road segment was “still delayed” due to the unresolved rights-of-way issues that, in turn, were holding up water and sewer work. At that time, Couch said electric work had been completed, and that the new completion deadline was October 2017.

During that February 2017 council meeting, Couch also announced that SCDOT contractors were set to begin work “any day now” on Segment 2 near CHS, awaiting a final S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control permit. That work, indeed, did get underway fairly soon afterward and continues now. The current work involves remaking the Ehrenclou/York/Chesnut Ferry intersection, bridge work on Chesnut Ferry Road Extension at River Road, and other improvements.

At the time, Couch said that segment of the truck route should be completed by this August, putting the deadline within the next month. He also said Segment 3 -- York and Rippondon streets -- were to be bid out that summer and completed by December of this year. According to one SCDOT representative, crews are on target to hit that deadline.

At another meeting in August 2017, Couch said that SCDOT had settled all but three of the right-of-way issues on Segment 1 and still hoped to complete that portion by end of the calendar year, meaning December 2017.

Work resumed on Boykin Road in January, but in fits and spurts, working for a few weeks and then stopping again before returning. They returned Monday in full force, but it was unclear for how long.

“Right-of-way issues delayed the project,” City Manager Mel Pearson acknowledged in an email Tuesday. “(Those) issues have been resolved and work has resumed. Utilities are in place for the Boykin Road segment of the truck route.”

The road ahead

As of Thursday, work continued on all three segments of the truck route.

While the crews were back on Boykin Road for the first time in a long while, other crews continued working on Segment 2, especially at its intersection of Chesnut Ferry Road Extension where it becomes York Street. There, in addition to widening Ehrenclou and Chesnut Ferry, contractors are completely redesigning the intersection, essentially bending it away from its current location.

Crews are also working on the other end of York Street for Segment 3, not only widening it, but rerouting a portion of the road to form a better intersection with Rippondon Street, which will replace Mill Street for that part of the truck route.
Meanwhile, this week’s start of a patching and resurfacing project along Broad Street -- scheduled to be completed in November -- added to traffic complications in and around Camden.

So, questions remain: When will everything be done? What will it look like? What about the road diet for Broad Street -- is it still going to happen? When?

(Coming Tuesday -- Part Three: The road from here)

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