DOT studies don’t support light coveted by Seaside principal

For at least the seventh time since 1998, school officials at one Horry County location are mounting another campaign for a stoplight to be installed at the entrance to their campus following two vehicle crashes there this week.

Seaside Elementary Principal Beth Selander said she’s asked parents to request a traffic signal to be installed by the S.C. Department of Transportation at their entrance on Woodland Drive on U.S. 17 Business, near Garden City Beach.

“This week two crashes have occurred,” Selander said Thursday. “I know the people at the district office and the superintendent are working very hard on this.”

The school opened in 1996 with 490 students and has since increased its population to more than 700 students in kindergarten through fifth grades.

Two years after the school opened, DOT officials conducted a traffic study regarding the stoplight because of development of nearby Ocean Breeze neighborhood. That request was denied.

As were requests from parents, representatives of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, state and local elected officials, all of whom petitioned DOT to install a light.

In memos from 1998, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008 and most recently Oct. 11, 2012, DOT officials said the volume of traffic and the number of crashes are not enough to warrant the installation of a traffic signal.

In the most recent traffic count study, DOT monitored traffic between 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. and found that 13,395 vehicles went through the intersection, which included 694 vehicles coming from Woodland Drive. Of those, 488 made a right turn onto U.S. 17 Business.

There were three crashes between Jan. 1, 2008, to Nov. 30, 2011, that included two right-angle crashes and one sideswipe crash, according to the memo.

Those right-angle crashes are considered the type of crash that could be “correctable with the installation of a stop and go traffic signal,” according to the memo. But there were not enough of them.

Officials also noted that if a light were installed, the school would need to eliminate backup onto U.S. 17 Business by increasing the room for vehicle capacity on school grounds and Woodland Avenue Extension or unload and load students faster, according to the memo.

There are stop signs to control traffic on Woodland Drive and school advance signs posted on U.S. 17 Business along with flashing signs that decrease the speed from 45 mph to 35 mph during school arrival and dismissal hours, according to DOT officials. The Woodland Drive approach has a left/straight lane and a right turn lane.

DOT officials did not immediately return telephone calls for comment on Friday.

Twenty-one days after the memo regarding the latest traffic study, the second crash in a week was reported at the intersection, Selander said.

On Oct. 31, two vehicles crashed and one vehicle caught fire on U.S. 17 Business in front of the entrance to the school, according to authorities. The crash happened at 7:15 a.m.

Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins with the S.C. Highway Patrol said a driver had made a left hand turn off U.S. 17 onto Woodland Drive, which leads into the school.

“The vehicle did so right in front of a southbound vehicle,” Collins said.

The car that was headed south on U.S. 17 caught fire after the wreck, but the driver escaped unharmed, Collins said.

One driver was taken to the hospital, Collins said, but there were no serious injuries.

“[Oct. 31] was unfortunately the worse, but fortunately nobody was hurt,” Selander said. “We monitored it and got everybody in safely.”

In a DOT memo dated October 1998, a traffic study was conducted in March of that year and DOT officials determined a traffic signal was not needed. The study gathered traffic counts from 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. and showed that 11,333 vehicles entered the intersection with 510 vehicles exiting from the school and of those 278 vehicles made a right turn.

In July 2002, DOT officials conducted another traffic study and found that during the same time period, 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. A total of 15,506 vehicles entered the intersection with 377 coming from the school and 252 of those making a right turn from Woodlawn Drive onto U.S. 17.

Between Jan. 1, 1993, and Nov. 30, 2001, there were 21 vehicle crashes, including 10 right angle crashes.

“A total of 21 accidents over a 107-month period would not be considered high for this type of intersection,” wrote Dennis Townsend, DOT District Engineering Administrator.

Also during 2002, school officials petitioned Horry County police to direct traffic, which city police officers often do at schools in their jurisdictions. Then-Chief Paul Goward told school officials he understood their frustration and dilemma, but similar hazards existed at schools across the county.

“I’m afraid the best we can offer is to evaluate your problem intersection and establish its priority for periodic monitoring,” Goward wrote.

Later, in June 2004, DOT officials reported they would monitor the traffic situation because a multi-family golf villa project was being built nearby and included access to Woodland Drive Extension, which serves as the entrance to the school.

The results of another traffic study were released in March 2006 and showed that between Jan. 1, 2002, to Oct. 15, 2005, there were 10 vehicle crashes including seven right-angle crashes, two rear-end crashes and one left-turn crash, according to the memo. Again, DOT officials decided “the traffic volumes would not support the installation of a stop and go traffic signal at the intersection.”

But DOT officials recommended that the speed limit be dropped to 35 mph during school times and a sign added to the flashers and school advance signs. Those signals were added.

So until a study shows that there has been enough vehicle crashes and traffic at the intersection to merit a traffic light, Selander said she’ll continue to tell school employees and parents: “Be very careful coming and going.”