One of Columbia’s busiest intersections is getting a huge face-lift

The Richland County Penny Tax is going to make improvements to the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Bull Street
The Richland County Penny Tax is going to make improvements to the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Bull Street jwilkinson@thestate.com

One of Columbia’s busiest intersections is about to see some big changes, courtesy of the Richland County penny tax.

Beginning next year, workers will begin adding lanes and restrictive medians at the intersection of Bull Street and Elmwood Avenue. Those changes are expected to improve traffic flow and safety.

The intersection saw 73 accidents from January 2015 to December 2017, including 37 sideswipe crashes, most during right- or left-hand turns in the intersection, according to a study by the Richland County Transportation Penny Program.

“We want to mitigate some of these accidents,” said Raven Gambrell, a member of the group that manages the penny tax-funded road improvement program. She presented the intersection improvement plan to Columbia City Council members Tuesday.

However, the intersection provides challenges for engineers because it is “constrained” by a church, a gas station and a historic brick wall bordering the former S.C. State Hospital, Gambrell said.

The $3.2 million project will add turn lanes and medians, eliminate parallel parking on the street and add a center lane on eastbound Elmwood Avenue, allowing traffic to move straight into the BullStreet Commons section of the BullStreet District, the State Hospital’s redevelopment project.

The project is part of the county’s ongoing $1 billion transportation improvement program, funded by a 1-percent countywide sales tax that voters narrowly approved in 2012.

The penny tax is being used for projects such as the widening of Bluff Road near Williams-Brice Stadium, a new plaza on Lincoln Street near Colonial Life Arena, a new greenway along the Saluda River and the widening of Clemson and Hardscrabble roads in Northeast Richland.

Even with the improvements at Bull and Elmwood, travel time through the intersection during rush hour will not significantly improve, according to the study. With an “A” being the best and a “F” being the worst travel time through the intersection, the improvements will only raise the grade from an “F” in most directions to an “E” or a “D.”

In the best-case scenario, the time through the intersection on the southbound lanes of Bull Street during the evening rush would drop from 187 seconds to 28 seconds — an “F” to a “C.”

The main intent is to lower the number of side-swipe crashes by simplifying and delineating the sometimes confusing turn lanes, Gambrell said.

The work includes:

Eliminating the mandatory right-hand turn lane onto Calhoun Street in the northbound lanes of Bull Street, making it a third through lane.

Reducing the southbound lanes of Bull Street south of Elmwood from three to two. Presently, two left-hand turn lanes from Elwood expand into three lanes, causing confusion.

Adding a curved median dividing lanes for drivers making a right run from southbound Bull Street onto Elmwood.

Eliminating on-street parking on Elmwood in the block adjacent to the intersection.

Closing the Elmwood median to eliminate left-hand turns in either direction onto Wallace Street.

Eliminating some driveways.

Adding new streetlights.

Making some improvements to the BullStreet Commons entrance.

The work is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2019 and end in the spring of 2020.

Mayor Steve Benjamin noted to Gambrell that the traffic will likely frustrate drivers during that time.

“Do we have your cellphone number to give out to constituents?” he joked.

TownPark at BullStreet are the first townhouses being built on the development. They are four floors and feature an elevator.