Leadership Charleston Class of 2021: Transportation and Infrastructure

Written by Class of 2021 participant John Edward Griffith of Trident Construction

On Thursday, September 24, the Leadership Charleston Class of 2021 attended our first session: transportation and infrastructure – a particularly interesting topic that affects everyone in our local community on a daily basis.

The common theme throughout the day was connectivity and the topics discussed included flooding, shared roadways, broadband internet access, mass transit and the collaborative tri-county Council of Governments who unite the projects together. Each of these topics present their own challenges within our community. However, it is evident that they all need to be tackled head-on to continue our shared success as a community. 

Our Region’s Relationship with Water

Widespread Flooding

Even now, as I am writing this, the heavy rains are battering our city and causing large amounts of flooding creating havoc on our roadways. As a senior hydraulic engineer for HDR, Jared Bramblett is well aware of the impacts that stormwater runoff and increasing sea levels have on our community, especially in regard to the Charleston peninsula. We are fortunate to live and work in an area with ample access to beaches and rivers, making it easy to see how water positively impacts our lives and boosts our economy through tourism. However, over the past 100 years, the sea level has risen one foot. If the concerns like this one facing our region are not handled properly, the increasing amount of water will begin to affect our lives differently – in a much more negative way. Projects such as the low battery wall improvement is just one example of how we are working to preserve our city.

In Charleston, water has and will always be part of our lives. We need to learn from our past and work collectively to determine and fund the proper solutions. Collaborations such as the Dutch Dialogues brought in outsiders from the Netherlands to help assess our city’s flood risk and plans moving forward. The Army Corp’s 3x3x3 Flood Risk Management study is exploring the potential for an 8-mile wall protecting the peninsula to be built. Since 2015, the amount of flood events has continued to increase exponentially. As we continue to collect data to show and determine risks, we need to improve on our regional collaboration, similar to how the Medical District is working together to help fund and discover the best ways to preserve the city and surrounding areas from increasing flood waters.

Roadways for Vehicles and Pedestrians

As a peninsula, naturally, bridges are essential to connecting our community. Katie Zimmerman, Executive Director for Charleston Moves, explains how and why the roads are meant to be shared. Pedestrians and cyclists will help everyone by reducing traffic – they are not “stealing” lanes from cars.  Charleston Moves came together after a group of bikers lobbied for a bike path to be included in the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. After that huge success, it was realized how important a voice for bikers and pedestrians alike was needed in our community.

Current projects include the Battery to Beach project which is close to connecting safe continuous passageways from Folly Beach through the Battery to Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms beaches. Drivers need to be aware of the increasing number of bikers on the roads. Through the use of “sharrows” or shared arrows, drivers are beginning to understand that not only are bikers allowed on the roads, but they are to be respected as a mutual commuter. Safety is the biggest concern for all parties utilizing our roadways. Additional campaigns include the Bridge the Ashley initiative, which has already started to see success in the new addition of the pedestrian bridge alongside the Highway 17 Ashley River Draw Bridges. As a community, we need to continue to support the funding and design for safe bike and pedestrian access so that everyone can enjoy and utilize all of our roadways.

Regional Connectivity

Broadband Internet Access

Because of the coronavirus, a light has been shed on another challenge that prevents some members of our community from connecting with each other and the world. For example, without access to broadband internet in our current pandemic conditions, many children are struggling to connect with schools. George Ramsey, Senior Director of Legislative Relations for the Chamber, spoke on how an updated mapping of the entire state is underway to determine who and what areas are unable to connect to the internet.

Will Helmly, President and CEO of Home Telecom, expressed how the Internet of Things has already taken over the region. In 2008, the number of devices connected to the internet surpassed the number of people connected to the internet. Currently, an average of nine devices per person are connected to the internet. Providing the cable infrastructure to rural areas will take half a billion dollars, and that is only the first challenge. The larger issue is to be able to make the access affordable. In the growing technological world, it is imperative that everyone has the ability to access broadband internet if they desire.

Mass Transit

Councilman Mike Seekings is all about the numbers when it comes to our city. Charleston’s tourism affects all reaches of our community. Providing access to the city is a main concern with our overly congested roadways, not only for tourism but for the thousands that live outside the city and work downtown. Sharon Hollis is the Principal Planner and Project Lead for The Lowcountry Rapid Transit, which is a plan to provide mass transit from Summerville through North Charleston and down the peninsula, ending at the WestEdge Development downtown.

The City of Charleston has approximately 120,000 citizens, with only 20,000 actually residing on the peninsula. When you include 7.5 million visitors yearly with the current demand of the citizens, we have yet another challenge to accommodate parking and access. The Lowcountry Rapid Transit is prepared to transport a large number of employees and tourists alike with a fast, reliable, comfortable solution. This project has been in discussion for years and is projected to be completed in 2026. The bus system is proposed to run down Rivers avenue in the center lanes, utilizing the median as stop locations.  Through improved stop light technology, the bus system will have priority on the route, reducing the time and improving reliability for the community’s use.

The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCoG) is the group that helps to tie it all together. Andrea Kozloski, Kathryn Basha and Sharon Goss are only a few of the employees who help this entity provide anything and everything for the citizens of the Tri-county area.  Through help with loans and funding for companies and job creation, improving CARTA with electric bus fleets, regional planning, grants, and workforce development, the BCDCOG is here to help. 

All of these challenges are tied together with a common goal in mind: improving the Tri-County area as a whole. Creating and developing areas strategically to conserve and limit stormwater runoff, allowing all of the citizens safe passage on our roads no matter the mode of transportation, giving each individual the opportunity to access the internet and providing affordable and quick transportation to and from the peninsula are all initiatives in place to continue to reinvest in keeping our community happy and prosperous. 

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