After 3 pedestrians killed in 4 years, downtown Columbia street to get big safety fix

A deadly stretch of Millwood Avenue in Columbia is about to get a big safety fix.

The Richland County Transportation Commission, which is the pipeline for state gas tax money, on Tuesday awarded $485,000 for repaving and lane changes for the stretch of road between Devine Street and Gladden Street. The money is in addition to $35,000 for a traffic signal at an especially dangerous intersection.

The stretch of the unusually wide four lane street has seen three pedestrian killed in the past four years and scores of collisions, mostly rear-end or angle collisions with motorists waiting to turn left.

“I felt like we were waiting for someone else to get killed,” said state Rep. Seth Rose, who, along with state Rep. Todd Rutherford, led that effort to have the money earmarked for the improvements. Both are Richland County Democrats.

The S.C. Department of Transportation and the city of Columbia are currently installing a special traffic signal at the intersection with House Street called a “Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon.” It allows a person to activate it when he or she is ready to cross the street.

“They can push a button and stop the cars,” said Lori Campbell, the department’s district traffic engineer that headed the project.

The signal should be up and running next month, she said. The state and city split the cost.

Also, the city is studying three different options for redrawing the lanes after resurfacing:

Establishing a 11-foot center turn lane;

Marking a smaller 6-foot “pedestrian refuge” center lane

Or, establishing a 10-foot center turn lane and bike lanes.

The city will choose between the three options with input from neighbors.

All three options include the possible closure of Dillon Street at Millwood, which doesn’t sit well with Marvin Heller, president of the Lyon Street Neighborhood Association.

He said that a street beautification project on Gervais Street years ago isolated his neighborhood, and the closure of Dillon Street would further that.

“It makes it harder for safety vehicles to access our neighborhood and makes it harder for us to navigate our neighborhood. That’s certainly not something we would like to see.”

Fred Easley, president of the Historic Melrose Neighborhood Association, noted that another pedestrian was hit by a car just last week.

“Over the years there have just been so many problems in that area,” he said. “We are really pleased that something is being done about it.”

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.