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Strip center tenants praise DOT design change

A DOT compromise would allow left turns from Spartanburg Highway onto Mt. Airy Street, preserving access to a retail strip center. A DOT compromise would allow left turns from Spartanburg Highway onto Mt. Airy Street, preserving access to a retail strip center.

State DOT engineers offered a compromise today to provide left-turn access into a retail strip center near the intersection of Spartanburg Highway and Upward Road, although the engineers warned that the concession will end up causing   congestion at the busy intersection just to the east.


The design of the new the intersection, a part of the Upward Road widening project, has caused concern among the tenants in the strip center that contains the Tobacco Outlet, Negozio's Italian Deli, Rockfish Tattoos and other shops.

Commissioners in June asked the state Department of Transportation to take another look at the design to ensure access to the strip center on Spartanburg Highway at Mt. Airy Street. The original design would have created a concrete median that extended 520 feet from Upward Road, preventing left turns into the strip center.
Division engineer Joel Setzer said DOT engineers had drawn a new plan that would end the concrete median before Mt. Airy Street, allowing left turns into the strip center via Mt. Airy Street. For reasons or traffic movement and safety, left turns out of Mt. Airy Street toward Upward Road is not an option, Setzer said.

"If they put in that left-in, right-out I think that will really help us a lot," said Dan Focarino, the owner of Negozio's. "These guys have been great. The commissioners have been working with us ever since we spoke to them a few months back. And the DOT guys have been working with us."
The decision to allow eastbound vehicles to turn left onto Mt. Airy Street comes at a cost, Setzer said.
"It's a choice, it's a tradeoff," he said. "If we take part of the left turn stacking lane to allow a left turn into Mt. Airy Street, it's projected the traffic from those left turn volumes would back out within a five-year period onto 176. It's a matter of choices, of access versus moving traffic and the safety of traffic."

One option to help with the stacking lane problem could be to allow a longer green light for left turns from Spartanburg Highway onto Upward Road toward I-26. The probable consequence of that, he said, is longer delays for other traffic movements and more congestion.

Commissioner Bill O'Connor said the DOT too often seems stymied by state law when it comes to adapting to local concerns. "It would seem if we could work it out with the Legislature it would be good to have the flexibility to address something that was not considered when the project was designed,” he said.

The DOT does have flexibility, Setzer responded, and it has modified the intersection plans. He said he recalled the hearings on the Upward Road project were focused entirely on the hot issue at the time of a divided four-lane versus a five-lane with a center turn lane.

Even had they known of the concerns, Setzer said it is doubtful that road engineers would have created a design “that would allow left in and left out at Mt. Airy Street that would accommodate all the future traffic and safety concerns.”

“I think the weakness (in the hearing process) is engaging in property owners and businesses more upfront,” he said.

O’Connor said he hoped the experience on the project will lead to fuller explanation and more outreach to property owners the next time the state designs roadwork.

“If this project and these issues (of working with businesses) become a part of planning future projects it will have served a purpose,” O’Connor said.