The town of Lexington's downtown traffic plan has long been more gridlock than grid.
Three highways — S.C. 6 and U.S. 1 and U.S. 378 — converge in the town center, funneling every car trying to get through the town into a narrow three-block corridor stacking vehicles along the streets scores deep, especially during rush hour.
And since the beginning of June, an ambitious plan to alleviate congestion by converting North Lake Drive (S.C 6) and Church Street into multilane, one-way streets has been underway. But closed lanes, ripped-up intersections, unmarked asphalt and lines of orange cones have made navigating through the bottleneck even more of a nightmare.
"I've had three near-death experiences, " said Brianna Blaney, who owns the brand-new Hidden Treasures women's clothing boutique on the town's burgeoning Main Street. "It's chaotic trying to get around."
And a world-class snafu last Friday caused the mother of all traffic jams when the paving company extended its nighttime work by two hours to 8:30 a.m. and Lexington Police shut down the entire loop during the morning rush hour.
Shop owners couldn't get to their business, lawyers and judges couldn't get to court. Nothing moved except the drivers' rising blood pressure.
"We dropped the ball," Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall said.
He explained that not only should the nighttime paving not have been extended past 6:30 a.m., but that the police should have just closed one lane of Main Street and not the whole loop.
"There was a communication error," MacDougall said. The pavers had been delayed by rain for seven days, "and they were trying to get in as much paving as they could."
The screwup caused the mayor and town council to post a lengthy apology on the city's Facebook page, which in turn generated a stream of comments.
"This is going to be an even bigger nightmare when school starts back," wrote Diane Edge Harmon.
"Thanks for the apology," Joe Cavalluzzi wrote. "Now can you just get these rocks out of the road for the love of God."
MacDougall has gone door-to-door to businesses to explain the project and has preached the gospel of the "One Way Pair" project to anyone who will listen.
"I want to keep my job (as mayor)," he said.
When completed, the new loop will eliminate the long, multilight waits on S.C. 6 and U.S. 378 to get through town, he said, including busy Main Street, which is U.S. 1. The city reports that 17,000 vehicles travel on Main Street each day; 12,500 travel on North Lake Drive.
He noted that the $2.5-million project is being paid for with town hospitality taxes, even though the improvements are being made on state and federal highways. Better streets are needed for the town to move tourists to popular Lake Murray.
"We're proud to fix our own problems," he said.
And MacDougall noted that curb cuts are to be completed this week. And the entire project should be completed "hopefully" by the end of the month.
But for Laney Mills, owner of The Magnolia Salon at 305 North Lake Drive in Lexington, the headaches will continue. The construction has completely blocked her entrance from Church Street and North Lake Drive, and the new median at the confluence of the two streets will keep people from making a left on Lake into her parking lot.
"It's going to be disastrous for us," said Laney, who added that she wouldn't rule out the possibility of moving the business if problems persist.
MacDougall urged patience.
"We understand peoples' frustration," he said. "But we're committed to making improvements to our traffic congestion."