The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is taking a closer look at the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor East in Charleston and Berkeley counties, which has been identified as one of the state’s most congested highways.
SCDOT is seeking public opinions on its plans, opening an online public information portal for the EAST Planning and Environmental Linkages Study opened in July. It includes research, graphics, and a survey that will allow people who frequently travel the corridor to pinpoint everyday issues that they experience with the road. Residents can access the survey and virtual public information meeting via the project’s website. The period for public comment will close on Saturday, Aug. 15.
The survey is an early step in the process that is intended to help determine critical factors in implementing the project’s eventual final draft. Project specifics have not been announced yet, but SCDOT has released initial findings, with congestion, speeding, truck merging, and aggressive/distracted drivers listed as top issues with the roadway.
One stunning statistic that should be taken into careful consideration is the projected growth for Daniel Island, Thomas Island and the Cainhoy area, as the department reports that average annual daily traffic will increase by 72% by 2050.
SCDOT research shows significant roadway deficiencies include capacity and shoulder widths, appearing to be a signal for a move towards adding increased lanes for automobile traffic.
But an important concern seems to be missing from the SCDOT reports, note local residents.
“A major omission from the survey is any mention of noise pollution,” said Daniel Island resident Gen. Al Hansen.
Hansen lives in Daniel Island Park, which runs alongside I-526. Noise continues to be a quality-of-life issue for the island’s residents, and creating new lanes would cause the problem to persist, he said.
“Trees and shrubs act as noise blockers. If they are removed, then the issue will become even worse,” he said.
Fellow Daniel Island resident Jim Morrell lives on Dalton Street, which runs parallel to I-526 behind Beresford Creek. He said that the noise is evident down the entire street, and could have more unwanted consequences with expansion.
“I think it will impact our property values,” Morrell said.
Ken Scarlett, president of the Daniel Island Natural Resource Association, points out that the “project is on track to create a massive turnpike across Daniel Island through to Highway 17 to service the Wando Terminal and increase uninspected truck traffic from approximately 750,000 loads per year to over 1.5 million loads per year.”
Scarlett is concerned that the survey won’t get enough public response other than from truckers and ports personnel.
“Please complete the SCDOT I-526 four-lane road expansion survey this week if I-526 safety, noise, pollution and massive tree clearing is of interest to you and your family,” he said. “The input from this survey will shape the project so this is likely the only voice residents will have for the doubling of I-526 East from Virginia Avenue to Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.”
Structures and other physical boundaries running along the 11-mile stretch of road between Virginia Avenue and U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant are some of the obstacles in coming up with a project cost and timeline. That, and the number of bridges impacted — 65% of the 11-mile corridor is composed of bridges, including the Don Holt Bridge and the James B. Edwards Bridge, which pass over the Cooper and Wando rivers.
SCDOT project manager Joy Riley said those bridges cannot be expanded due to their complexity.
“The only other option is another bridge,” Hansen said, adding if a new bridge was needed, that it could leave area homes and businesses on the south side of the island in difficult situations.
The online public information meeting is the fourth in the series of eight steps that SCDOT must complete before the final survey is released. The agency also is in the process of gathering information for a traffic analysis, environmental study, and bridge/roadway feasibility analysis.
The results for the PEL study will be released in summer 2021.
Comments can be made by completing the comment form online, mailing comments, emailing the project team at email@example.com
, calling the project hotline at 843-258-1135, or by scheduling an appointment at the I-526 LCC Community Office by phone at 843-258-1135.
Written comments may be submitted by mail to: Joy Riley, SC Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 191, 955 Park St., Columbia, SC 29202-0191.
Comments must be postmarked or submitted by Aug. 15.
DANIEL ISLAND NATURAL RESOURCE ASSOCIATION RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Relocate the Wando Terminal to the spoils landfill island to the west of Clouter Creek on the Cooper River, or alternatively relocate to a logistically professional location in Jasper County as previously promised. Convert the existing Wando Terminal property into a community waterfront park for all residents to enjoy. The island west of Clouter Creek is the desolate landfill under the Don Holt bridge on the east side bank of the Cooper River near the new Leatherman port facility.
2. Add only one “smart lane” in the median that will alternate directional use based on traffic congestion.
3. All trucks over four wheels in right lane only with 24/7 law enforcement.
4. New bike and pedestrian trailway stretching from Ashley River exit to Mount Pleasant with separate pedestrian bridges or tunnels over/under the Cooper River and Wando River and Ashley River.
5. Aesthetically pleasing sound barriers along the entire highway.
6. Extensive beautification landscaping, tree plantings and litter enforcement.