Dirt is moving so that traffic can get moving as the Phase 2 expansion of Berkeley County’s Clements Ferry Road corridor kicks off.
Recently, county and state officials held a groundbreaking ceremony on the soil of the soon to be 4.5 miles of four-lane asphalt from Jack Primus Road to S.C. Hwy. 41. The approximately $66 million project — that includes a multi-use path, curb, gutter and a raised planted median — is slated to be finished November 2024.
Groundwork on the extension of two lanes to the once-rural road is still very much in the preliminary stages. Phase 1, approximately 4 miles of roadway from I-526 to Jack Primus Road, was completed August 2019.
Although Phase 1 and Phase 2 are similar in mileage, over the next three years the latter aims to have an even larger impact on the area’s quality of life and safety. The previous phase was managed and designed by S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT), but this next stage is entirely at the discretion of Berkeley County.
County officials wanted to be more directly involved in the decision-making process and to be in a position to move more quickly under county procurement and management of engineering contracts. SCDOT remains a critical component in the project and has
performed the review of all engineering designs for the construction plans.
Here’s what has been done at this juncture of the colossal community project and what’s ahead:
The Road Ahead
Bids for construction were received last September and in November a contract was awarded to Banks Construction Co., a local company based out of North Charleston, for $44,589,109.06.
The first major construction activities going on right now are clearing and grubbing, such as removing trees, brush, grass, weeds, downed trees, stumps, roots, buried logs, and other debris. This will be followed by the installation of erosion-control devices.
The number of trees that have been cut down since the project's beginning and the total by the end is not information that the county has, according to Berkeley County Supervisor Johnny Cribb.
“On large projects, such as this, clearing is accomplished within the construction limits and paid as either a lump sum or by the acre,” he added.
Once erosion-control measures are in place, utility companies will begin relocating their facilities to make room for four signalized intersections and two bridges. In the process, approximately 100 property owners will be required to relocate various utilities and
relinquish property as a right of way.
Work requiring traffic interruptions will be done at night. Nighttime work began Jan. 10 and will continue Sunday through Thursday for the next few weeks depending on weather. Efforts to expedite the start of major utility relocation have begun.
All of the aforementioned utility work is expected to take nine months, and is estimated to be complete near mid-2021.
At the recent groundbreaking ceremony, Cribb and Berkeley County Councilman Josh Whitley of District 2, a representative and resident of Daniel Island, spoke of the project’s future impact to the Cainhoy peninsula.
“This project will improve the quality of life for thousands in the Lowcountry,” Cribb said. “It will mean a safer trip to school. It will provide safe recreation and pedestrian opportunities. It will improve congestion along the corridor.”
Cribb cited the primary source of funding for the “high-capacity road project” as the county’s 2014 one-cent sales tax program, along with additional federal funds.
Federally, the number of dollars contributed to Phase 2 is approximately $20 million. The county is funding the remainder of the project, which is estimated to cost $45.8 million, according to Cribb.
“We are ready to see this project get off the ground,” Whitley said. “It has been a competitive and thorough process to get to this point and I look forward to seeing great work from our capable project team.”
A correlation between the population of residents in the ever-growing dense area has reflected an increase in the daily average number of vehicles along Clements Ferry Road. The travel statistics of the past and present compared to the future are projected to explode.
In 2015, the road averaged 13,800 vehicles per day. The most up-to-date traffic count is 14,200 daily, according to SCDOT.
Using the historical growth rate in the corridor, SCDOT public information coordinator Lauren Roeder estimates 2024 would bring approximately 34,000 cars per day. By 2040, that number is expected to skyrocket to approximately 58,000 vehicles daily.
During construction, one lane of travel and property access will be maintained. Lower speed limits in work zones will be established to maintain the safety of drivers and construction personnel.
One Realtor believes that all of the chaos now will be fortuitous in the long run.
“It’s the mess before the cleanup,” said Mary Patterson with Carolina One Real Estate.
Patterson said she personally hasn’t sold anything or had any buyers or sellers on Clements Ferry Road, but noted that she has seen housing sales start to take off because of the new home appeal with a bigger than average lot.
“Yes there’s construction in the short-term, but I’m getting a newer home and in the long-term you’re getting a better investment,” Patterson said.
She commented how the region continues to attract new industries and new people. Many consumers have substantial equity in their home, interest rates are still low and people want to live in Charleston.
Patterson added that the forthcoming developments and neighborhood expansions on the Clements Ferry Road corridor, highlighted by the new Point Hope, could potentially help relieve the Charleston area's inventory crunch.
“The only concern with continued population growth is our inventory — we have to have a variety of housing available across varied price ranges to accommodate additional residents,” she said.
Patterson compared the potential growth of Clements Ferry Road to the development of Daniel Island. Those homebuyers who bought at the beginning and waited patiently were rewarded with home values that in some cases have tripled in appreciation.
“2020 was a record-setting year for residential real estate in the Charleston area,” Patterson added. “... All the fundamentals of a healthy real estate market are in place and should continue to be there in 2021.”
Some companies see a small silver lining from the constant rush hour caused by traffic delays along Clements Ferry Road in that billboards get good exposure from frequent passers-by and the opportunity for free advertisement can attract potential customers who
are stuck at a standstill looking at roadside signage.
The Clements Ferry Road corridor promotes the live, work and play atmosphere with new restaurants and businesses opening up and new communities being added and built. In December, The Spinx Company gas station and convenience store opened at the end of the corridor on Highway 41.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the opening of another Spinx store in the Lowcountry,” said founder Stewart Spinks. “We look forward to welcoming the community through these doors.”
Spinx, which is based in Greenville, has more than 80 locations across South Carolina.
Locally owned Dog & Duck restaurant commented that they have yet to see an impact from the construction at their Clements Ferry location.
“So far (construction) hasn’t been anything too crazy,” said manager Alex Mahoney. “I’m sure it will be here soon, but right now it’s been pretty fine.”
Not all who find themselves in the crossroads of the Clements Ferry Road construction are optimistic or enthusiastic about the growth factor. Especially when it means the potential demise of a significant tree.
Cainhoy area resident John Samuel “Sammy” Sanders, 59, spends his evenings camped out in a hammock on his property. Not for his own leisure but out of protest.
Sanders lives on the intersection of Clements Ferry Road and Cainhoy Road, where the controversial “Meeting Tree” stands. The estimated 300-year-old live oak that expands 16 feet in diameter is rooted smack dab in the project’s right of way.
The Meeting Tree’s history predates the Civil War and is known for playing a role during the Antebellum period in the 18th century. Slaves and freedmen would gather under the shade of the tree, back when such assemblies were prohibited. The African-American
community would hold similar meetings back in the horse and buggy days over a century ago.
In 2017, Sanders noticed that the road widening design plans called for the removal of the historic tree. Since then, he’s been doing everything in his power to find a way to circumvent the construction.
Cribb clarified that the tree is not located on Sanders’ property. It’s in the right of way between his property and the edge of the roadway. Two alternative road plans were studied, noted Cribb, that would have avoided the tree, but were eliminated due to adverse
property impacts, additional costs and increased jurisdictional wetland impacts.
In the meantime, Sanders has been trying to get the tree registered with the Live Oak Society. He’s also raised awareness by creating a petition on change.org titled “Please Help Save This Historic African American Tree and Graves from being Destroyed” that has
garnered more than 2,000 signatures and counting. He recently wrote a letter to Gov. Henry McMaster pleading for the tree’s preservation.
Sanders noted that he has found several belt buckles and bullets near the base of the tree that he believes to be from the Revolutionary War period — another reason why he is hoping to halt construction for the fear of destroying a historical site.
In addition, Sanders claimed that he’s found hundreds of pounds of pottery and many arrowheads and other artifacts on his property dating back to the Wando tribe of Native Americans from the 17th century. There is also an African-American grave that may
potentially be disrupted in the excavation process.
However, Cribb noted that representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office requested the historical significance be investigated and it was determined that the tree did not play an important role within the community’s traditions or culture.
The City of Charleston, through an agreement with Berkeley County, will be planting 62 live oaks to mitigate the impact from removing the tree. A date has not yet been scheduled for the removal of the tree, according to Cribb.