060817 Roundabout: Public offers ideas for fixing roads and saving tree
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Joseph Grate, a property owner at the intersection, talks to the DOT project manager, Rebecca Breland.

Roundabout: Public offers ideas for fixing roads and saving tree

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

They’ll pave paradise and put in a roundabout.

That’s how state Department of Transportation’s current plan to remove the iconic oak tree at the intersection of Waverly Road and Petigru Drive sounds to many Pawleys Island area residents. More than 100 people showed up at a forum Tuesday to voice concerns and ask questions about the proposed project.

“There’s been a great deal of opposition. A lot of people want to save the tree,” Rebecca Breland, the DOT project manager, said.

“This is my community and I’m going to fight,” said Joseph Grate, owner of property on the southwest and northwest corners of the intersection.

The trouble on the road starts as Petrigru Drive takes a jog to the right when it crosses Waverly Road. So far, the single lane roundabout is the only solution presented by DOT, but citizens expressed many alternatives. Four-way stops, traffic signals, additional lanes and the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach were all mentioned. “If we can fix the geometry of Petigru it will help the operation of the intersection,” Breland said.

Grate said the most pragmatic approach would be lowering the 35 mph speed limit to avoid the need for a roundabout and to keep the oak intact. “The speed on Waverly Road is the problem for the intersection, exacerbated by traffic volume,” he wrote in a March 30 letter to DOT. “A roundabout, under the current situation would not be safe but disastrous!”

He said the $1.3 million allotted to this project would be better spent addressing the “hazardous” situation down the street at Waverly Road and Highway 17.

The DOT district engineering manager, W. Kyle Berry, responded with a letter and a map of where more 35 mph speed limit signs would be added to Waverly Road. It wasn’t what Grate had expected. He sent another letter to DOT commissioner Mike Wooten and is awaiting reply.

Another roundabout skeptic is Hannah Cromley, another life-long resident. “I would like to know if there was a study done before the ‘improvements’ on Highway 17,” she said.

Like Grate, she opposes the removal of the oak tree and questions whether the roundabout would be necessary if the county hadn’t already interfered with local traffic patterns. “I do feel like this is a solution to a problem that was created by the medians and it’s sort of a ‘by whatever means necessary’ for them to fix it. And it doesn’t really matter what’s in the way.”

A DOT project in 2015 replaced the two-way left-turn lane on 1.9 miles of Highway 17 in Pawleys Island with a raised median that limits left turns. That project, like the intersection, was placed on a list of DOT projects by Georgetown County as part of the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study.

But it’s not all about the tree. The purpose of the project is to improve safety by realigning the intersection to meet current design requirements and eliminating crossing conflicts that will reduce the frequency and severity of crashes. “DOT did a traffic study and we looked at the accident history from Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2015,” Breland said. There were seven accidents reported at Waverly Road and Petigru Drive. Three of those accidents had injuries.

“I’ve had a couple of experiences there where I was almost in an accident because it’s a confusing intersection,” Pat Carberry, who lives in the nearby Rose Run neighborhood, said. “I’m all for changing the intersection to make it more safe for traffic.”

Between traveling to visit with her sister in Pawleys Place and going to Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Church, she uses the intersection multiple times each day. “I love trees. We lost our only two trees on our whole lot during the hurricane so I’m very saddened by the loss of a tree, but I am more concerned for safety,” she said.

Carberry has lived in Pawleys Island full time for two and a half years, but visited the area more than 20 years before that. She isn’t all for the roundabout, but believes something must be done. As she waited for her chance to speak with Breland at the meeting, she listened to residents whose questions, she said, “weren’t about the traffic or the patterns. It was all about the tree. And that’s their opinion. That’s not my opinion.”

The roundabout boasts safety statistics of a 74 percent reduction in total crashes, a 68 percent reduction in injury crashes and 100 percent reduction in fatal crashes, according to DOT. Traffic should also move more smoothly since there should be no stops, just a speed reduction to enter the circle.

“Nobody who lives here minds stopping,” said Ann Berkes, a Ricefields resident. She advocated making the north side of Petigru wider so it would match the south side. “On Mr. Grate’s property, there are some oak trees there too, but they are far enough back from the road that they could be left alone,” she said.

Maybe it is all about the tree. At the public forum it seemed all paths lead back to the Waccamaw Neck’s beloved oak trees. Residents appreciate them and will do whatever is necessary to protect the ancient sentries of the Lowcountry.

“Something that’s been there 200 years, that came out of the ground can’t be removed because of an inconvenience,” Maggie Shah, a Hagley resident, said. “It just can’t.”

If the project is approved as is, construction will begin in the spring of 2019. If DOT has another idea for the project it will hold another public forum.

DOT will accept feedback on the project until June 21. Go to .

Oak tree has friends in high places

Charles Swenson
Gov. Henry McMaster has weighed in on the fate of an oak tree that stands at the intersection of traffic and tradition.

He told state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch last week that he is “concerned with the issue and that he’s going to investigate any possible solution.” That was confirmed by the governor’s press office.

McMaster’s family has had a creekfront home at Pawleys Island for many years. On a visit to the county last week as part of a trip along the coast to promote hurricane awareness, McMaster had his plane circle the area twice.

Goldfinch chairs the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study’s policy committee. The group is comprised of local and state officials who approve the spending of state Department of Transportation funds on regional projects. An improvement to the intersection of Waverly Road and Petigru Drive that would lead to cutting an oak tree on one corner was placed on the project list by Georgetown County.

DOT is proposing a roundabout, but even realigning the intersection would require cutting the tree, which is in the right of way, according to agency staff. That raised objections from area residents.

“Since the governor now runs DOT,” Goldfinch said, he called him. The change was part of the bill that raised the gas tax to fund infrastructure, and that became law when lawmakers overrode McMaster’s veto.

“Government agencies should try to protect ancient trees, including our live oaks,” Goldfinch said. “DOT engineers, as good as they are, are looking for the least-cost, most-effective means of doing things, which is good.”

But Goldfinch added, “it’s important for us to remind them that things like oak trees that have been around for hundreds of years are important.”

He thinks DOT should have presented the public with more than one option. “Give us a second or third or even fourth option,” Goldfinch said.

County officials share that view. “We may have to go back and revisit a different type of alignment,” County Council Member Steve Goggans said at a forum on the project. “I generally like roundabouts because they are a safer type of intersection,” but he added, “the old tree is iconic and so if we can save it, I’d like to.”

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