Despite the Charleston region's growing traffic woes, one group is fighting to close the lane of a major bridge and halt funding meant for a long-planned highway extension.
In an action alert sent out earlier today, the Coastal Conservation League (CCL) asked its supporters to attend tonight's Charleston County Council meeting to urge the council to stop further delay on the construction of a pedestrian and bike lane on the Legare Bridge over the Ashley River. The group also stated its opposition to a proposal to utilize $500,000 from the 2004-passed half-cent sales tax to garner federal approval for the extension of I-526 (the Mark Clark Expressway).
"This evening, Charleston County Council will vote on two important issues: further delaying completing the bike and pedestrian lane on the Legare Bridge and authorizing the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to use $500,000 from the annual allocation funds of the 2004 half-cent sales tax earmarked for road repairs to fund the federal approval process for the completion of I-526," reads the CCL action alert.
While the extension of I-526 has drawn some vocal opponents, such as the CCL, one recent poll showed wide voter support for the project. That survey, conducted by Columbia-based First Tuesday Strategies for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, showed that 61 percent of Charleston County voters support the completion of I-526, with 41 percent of respondents judging traffic congestion to be the region's chief challenge.
"The completion of I-526 has been a top priority for our chamber for more than 30 years," Bryan Derreberry, chamber president and CEO, said in a statement announcing those survey results. “Today, there are 48 new people being added to our region's population every day. Traffic congestion on James Island, Johns Island and West Ashley has gotten significantly worse in the past few years. There is no other project that will do more to alleviate congestion in this area than completion of I-526.”
In an interview with Palmetto Business Daily earlier this week, Trident CEO Council chair Marc Fetten expressed support for the I-526 extension and explained that the traffic issues are getting to the point where construction companies have been forced to do large cement pours at night in order to avoid heavier daytime traffic.
The construction of the bike lane on the Legare Bridge has been delayed as some council members have raised questions as to the jurisdiction of the project. In addition, as Palmetto Business Daily previously reported, some critics have argued that a study showing minimal impact to traffic from the lane closure was flawed.
That study by the City of Charleston found that less than a minute was added to any given commute, with the longest being a 13-second lengthening of the stretch to Folly Road.
“During the bike study, we were getting reports every day that it was taking folks an extra 40 to 50 minutes to get to work,” District 5 council member Marvin Wagner told Palmetto Business Daily. “From anywhere in my district.”
Part of the trouble Wagner saw with the 60-day trial run during which one of the bridge’s lanes was closed, is that it did not measure the impact further out. Near the bridge, he said, traffic is always “bumper-to-bumper” and so there would be little room for traffic times to be impacted.
Stephen Harris, president of the St. John’s Island Neighborhood Association, told Palmetto Business Daily that the city’s trial also only looked at city streets when estimating impact, which would exclude Folly Road — a major commuting thoroughfare that feeds into the Legare bridge. He said the push for the measure came primarily from a “very loud minority.”
“They want Charleston to be more like New York City where you can ride your bike everywhere,” Harris said. “But it’s a lot more than just (adding) a bike lane — downtown Charleston is one of the more dangerous places to ride a bike.”
The Charleston County Council will consider both items tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Lonnie Hamilton, III, Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston.
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