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Residents not pleased with new IL school traffic plans

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By Reece Murphy

INDIAN LAND – Residents and parents in the area of a new Indian Land elementary school on Harrisburg Road met with school district and public officials Wednesday evening, Oct. 30, at Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church to discuss their concerns with traffic and other issues.

Indian Land’s new elementary school is under construction at 10251 Harrisburg Road.

The school is scheduled to open next August for the 2014-15 school year.

About 65 people attended the meeting, mostly residents of the BridgeHampton neighborhood across from the school and neighborhoods along roads connecting to Harrisburg Road.

Among the public officials at the meeting were school district safety and transportation director Bryan Vaughn and maintenance director David Small, County Councilman Brian Carnes and Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis.

S.C. Department of Transportation district traffic engineers Greg Shaw and Vick Edwards participated, as did Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jeff Hilton.

S.C. Rep. Deborah Long (D-45), who helped organize the event, attended, but only moderated.

“From the school district’s standpoint, we understand where you folks are coming from,” Vaughn said in opening the meeting. “We know everybody here has a vested interest in this school.

“The school board wants to be good neighbors. We don’t want to interfere with your privacy or your quiet home life,” he said. “But I know there are several issues you guys are concerned with.”

Though the at times contentious meeting included discussion of construction noise from the school site and a new indoor shooting range being built down the road from the school, most residents’ concerns centered on school traffic.

A two-lane road that will be widened with turn lanes 200 feet on each side of the school, Harrisburg Road runs north to Pineville, N.C., and south to Fort Mill Highway (S.C. 160) just west of Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521).

Chief among residents’ traffic concerns was the question of what routes parents would take after dropping off and picking up their children in attempting to return to S.C. 160 and U.S. 521.

With no left turn onto S.C. 160 to access U.S. 521 from Harrisburg, residents said drivers would have limited choices: Drive north to Barberville Road, drive south to the intersection with Calvin Hall Road/Elmsbrook Lane, or cut through BridgeHampton.

Ken and Carolene Ingram of Sandra Lane said so many people already use their road as a cut-through between Elmsbrook and U.S. 521 at Walmart it’s earned the nickname “Walmart Boulevard.” 

The new school, they fear, will increase the traffic.

Several BridgeHampton residents said they believe traffic through their neighborhood will almost certainly increase as drivers cut through from Harrisburg to U.S. 521 via BridgeHampton Club Drive and Ardrey Kell Road in North Carolina.

“If they don’t take the shortcut, what is the alternative?” Tanya Baust asked.

Vaughn said though he “didn’t have a crystal ball,” he didn’t believe traffic would increase that significantly through the neighborhood.

He said the school district, in keeping with state policy regarding new school construction, had contacted the SCDOT for its input based on the results of an independent traffic study of the areas around the school, commissioned by the district.

Vaughn said the study suggested traffic would most likely release north from the school to Barberville Road and south away from the school to Calvin Hall.

Another factor, Vaughn said, was that the school’s smaller attendance area suggested there would be a significant number of school bus riders due to shorter routes.

Vaughn asked residents to keep in mind that school traffic would only be heavy two times a day, from about 7 to 7:30 a.m. and 2 to 2:30 p.m., with traffic at the latter times something most residents would not experience since they’d likely be at work.

Tensions in the room grew heated as some residents, unsatisfied with Vaughn’s answers, began firing questions at him.

Visibly frustrated, Vaughn told residents it was incorrect to assume that school traffic twice a day on Harrisburg Road was going to “create all the traffic woes in Indian Land.”

“When you get to talking about traffic issues that are occurring two miles away – and I say this with all due respect – there’s just no way a school district, or any other entity for that matter, is going to consider that (in making its plans),” Vaughn said.

“I’m getting a lot of questions about things that are out of our control,” he said.

With that, discussion turned to what some residents felt was a need for a stop light  to replace the current four-way stop signs at the intersection of Harrisburg Road and Calvin Hall Road/Elmsbrook Lane.

“You’ve already said what people could do,” said a BridgeHampton woman who declined to give her name after the meeting. “I don’t care about what people could do. What have you done to address it?”

Vaughn said the school district, as part of its planning, has set aside funds for potential future road improvements near the school should they become necessary.

SCDOT district traffic engineer Rick Shaw said when the department began its traffic study of the area around the school, it considered many of the concerns expressed by residents. The recommendations made by SCDOT were made in an effort to address those concerns, he said.

Shaw said, based on the study, the school’s plan for a drop-off/pick-up loop at the school capable of staging 300 vehicles would be sufficient to minimize traffic backup on Harrisburg itself.

Like Vaughn, Shaw said, though school traffic would likely be hectic for the first few days of each semester, he was confident that the traffic would “settle down and smooth out as people figure out how to proceed.”

He said SCDOT had conducted a study years ago on the intersection at Calvin Hall and Elmsbrook and determined that a four-way stop “works pretty well there.”

“Based on what the traffic study showed, in the future, it won’t really be the school traffic that will cause the (traffic) breakdowns in the area, it will be the background traffic as Indian Land grows,” Shaw said.

Parents and residents also expressed concern about speeding on Harrisburg, and asked about the possibility of placing speed bumps on BridgeHampton Club Drive.

Willis said the work order for speed limit signs would be submitted “before the week was out.”

Willis also said he would research whether BridgeHampton Club Drive was, as some asserted, a county-maintained road. If so, he said, the county could consider the need for speed bumps, otherwise it would be up to residents to have them installed.

BridgeHampton resident Deb Seidel asked Vaughn if the school district had plans to include a crosswalk across Harrisburg Road for students to walk to school.

Vaughn said there were no plans for a crosswalk.

After the meeting, Vaughn explained that schools are bound by state law to develop school plans based on SCDOT recommendations.

Since SCDOT did not recommend a crosswalk, and since Harrisburg Road is a state-maintained roadway, he said the school could not independently install one.

“Now, one of the things the DOT will do is once we get ready to go into session, they’ll put up appropriate signage, or flashing lights as needed. But they are the ones who would make the decision about a crosswalk,” Vaughn said. “It’s our school, but we don’t have any authority over the road.”

As the discussion of traffic issues drew to a close, area resident Brian Endres spoke of his frustrations and those expressed by many at the meeting about the process of establishing the school, and the perceived attitudes of Lancaster County officials toward Indian Land.

Endres said he’d been asking for a meeting on the topic since November 2012 to no avail. When it finally came, Endres said, the school board members representing Indian Land, Don McCorkle (District 1) and Mary Etta Taylor (District 7), did not attend.

Lancaster County School Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore planned to attend the meeting, but was out of town for a funeral the night of the meeting.

Endres said he and others feel the school situation is yet another example of Lancaster County officials caring more about Indian Land’s tax revenue than its residents.

“We’re not getting any respect from anybody,” Endres said. “And you sit here talking about our animosity? You want us to sit here and trust you?

“My point is that it is about time Lancaster County learns to show us some respect,” he said. “It’s about time that Indian Land starts receiving some recognition.”

The day after the meeting, Vaughn said he was glad for the opportunity to share information with residents.

Vaughn said he felt as if some of the residents’ suggestions were good ones, such as speed tables through BridgeHampton and more speed limit signs.

Though the meeting was contentious, Vaughn said the school district is willing to help residents as much as it can with the concerns. But residents also need to understand many of their concerns are beyond the school district’s ability to control.

“I think it was a good meeting overall from the standpoint that we were able to at least share information about the school and our beliefs about how the traffic patterns will be,” Vaughn said. “As far as some of the other things, I think it would have been nice to have had a situation that was a little less contentious.

“But you take the criticism and you take the praise; that’s the way it works,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to look at and explore their concerns.”