City leaders unveil HAWK pedestrian crossing signal for deadly stretch of Millwood Avenue

Published: Jul. 9, 2019 at 7:21 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A deadly stretch of roadway is getting a welcome change in the heart of Columbia thanks to a committee fueled by the gas tax.

To the clicks of a handful of scissors, the new pedestrian crossing signal on Millwood Avenue was unveiled Tuesday, as city leaders take aim at the dual issue on Millwood Avenue: of cars racing down the stretch, while jaywalkers cross the street in gasp-worthy proximity to flying cars.

"It will save lives,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “It will save lives. If it saves one over the next 20 years, it's worth the investment.”

The HAWK signal, which is an acronym for "high intensity activated crosswalk,” is the first installation of many to come, according to city and local leaders. Representative Seth Rose has been at the forefront of pushing for change along the Millwood Avenue corridor after three pedestrian deaths in four years between Gervais and Gladden Streets.

“This has proven to be a deadly stretch of road,” said Rose. “I truly believe that the improvement with this HAWK traffic signal, in addition to the half a million dollars of investments that will come to this stretch of road behind me will save lives.”

According to Rose, the HAWK signal cost SCDOT $35,000. The next phase of safety improvements will include $500,000 from the Richland County Transportation Committee, which is a group appointed by each state house representative for Richland County. It is funded by the gas tax, receiving $300,000 a month for area projects. Columbia City Council has not allocated any dollars towards this project.

We stopped in at the Black Box Barber Shop, where Regan Smith has been working for more than 20 years. While talking to Smith, we got the feeling that many feel the signal might not be too little too late - but rather - it's too late and not enough.

"I've seen people get hit, people get killed,” said Smith. “It shouldn't have taken this long to put up a traffic signal. You know – one life is one life too many. You can't put a cost on life. Whatever it takes to get the lights up and save a pedestrian life, they should've come up with that money a long time ago."

He said while it's better than nothing and it’s the most positive step forward so far, the whole area needs to be revitalized. Meanwhile, the mayor says revitalization is a work in progress, funded by dollars from the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant. But, Lyon Street Neighborhood Association president Marvin Heller said he’d rather see local dollars and local leaders at work.

"Are we being treated the same way other neighborhoods are being treated? No, I submit we're not,” Heller said. “And it needs to change."

The half a million dollars for safety improvement on Millwood Avenue comes from the gas tax and the CTC, but the city will decide what to do with that money through a public input period this fall. Work could include repaving and restriping, medians, bike lanes, sidewalks, and side road closures if a plan is approved. Then work would begin in the spring of 2020.

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