After a flood of complaints from Aiken residents and discussion with local leaders, SCDOT has announced plans to remove the recently constructed median from the intersection of Whiskey Road and Talatha Church Road.
SCDOT has also revised plans that previously banned all left turns at the intersection from Talatha Church Road onto Whiskey Road.
Left turns onto Whiskey Road will be prohibited at the intersection from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. At all other times, including weekends, left-hand turns will be allowed onto Whiskey Road at the intersection.
SCDOT predicts the work will be completed by the end of September, and the new turn rules will go into effect then.
“SCDOT’s responsibility is to maintain the safety and operations of our highway system,” said SCDOT District Engineering Administrator Kevin Gantt in a press release. “We always want to be responsive to our citizens’ input, but we prioritize safety. We believe these interim steps will allow the intersection to safely operate and provide relief to motorists on Talatha Church Road, while we continue to pursue more permanent intersection improvements.”
Prior to complaints about the intersection, no public input was incorporated into the process of the median’s design and construction. According to Gantt, this is because the construction of the median was part of an encroachment permit. Gantt said SCDOT does not require these permittees to have public hearings.
The intersection was also put into effect without notification being given to local representatives. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, was one of the representatives working with SCDOT on interim and long-term solutions for what he perceived as an “inelegant solution to a traffic problem” at the intersection.
“Much praise goes to the residents of the Talatha Church Road area who advocated for these changes,” Taylor said. “I have been working with them closely for the past two months to bring their concerns to SCDOT.”
Taylor said he was pleased with the outcome, and with SCDOT’s swiftness of response in bringing changes to the intersection. He worked with state Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, on bringing resident’s complaints about the intersection to SCDOT.
Young said he too was pleased with the changes that will be made to the intersection, and he hopes for “long-term solutions that would require SCDOT to obtain public input for similar situations” in the future.
The encroachment permit was given to Beazley Development to provide turn lanes to a new housing development being constructed by the company on Talatha Church Road.
Beazley Development Inc. commented on the traffic issue to the Aiken Standard.
Vice President of Land Development Joe Gulino said via email the company preferred to incorporate a left-hand turn option into the intersection “from the beginning and still do,” but SCDOT required the removal of left-hand turns due to a traffic study conducted prior to the median’s construction.
Gulino also provided blueprints of the intersection’s design, along with email correspondence with SCDOT which shows Beazley’s original intersection design included a median that was thinner than the one constructed.
“In an email dated Sept. 1, 2016 from Kevin Webber (SCDOT District Permit Engineer) to our engineers, Mr. Webber attached a ‘redline’ revision that he designed,” Gulino said.
The redlined revision called for a significantly wider median than the one previously designed by Beazley Development’s engineers.
Gulino said Beazley Development could not request that SCDOT remove the median as they had “no choice but to comply” with the plans.
“However, along with the citizens, we support that the SCDOT remove the island and allow left hand turns from Talatha Church Road on to Whiskey Road,” Gulino said.
Gulino also stated the company was “never told by the SCDOT to work with any property owner to remove the trees,” referring to the alteration of several trees in SCDOT’s right of way planted by Grace Church of Aiken, the owner of property across from the development on Talatha Church Road.
Gantt previously told the Aiken Standard his staff had contacted Beazley and asked them to work with the property owners, but did not provide proof of correspondence by the time of publication.
In addition to the removal of the median, future work on the intersection will also include “vegetation clearing to improve sight lines, thermoplastic pavement markings, raised pavement markers, and signs,” according to the press release.