Ashley River Bicycle & Pedestrian Bridge
After a century of community advocacy around a safe crossing for pedestrians and people on bikes over the Ashley River between downtown and West Ashley, it’s finally happening!
The City of Charleston has been diligently working through the federal permitting process since the BUILD grant application was selected in 2019. COVID and supply chain issues have caused unfortunate delays, cost increases and a subsequent funding deficit. Thankfully, through a collaborative partnership between the City of Charleston, SCDOT, USDOT, BCDCOG and the CHATS leadership team, the necessary additional funds have been identified, and the bridge’s design will remain at 21′ wide. The City anticipates voting on a contract to begin the design-build project within the next couple of months.
Our Ashley River Bridge Package
Three major bridge sets connect communities across the Ashley River within Charleston County:
- the James Island Connector and Wappoo Cut Bridge
- the pair of Memorial and Legare Bridges
- the North Bridge to Cosgrove Avenue
None of these bridges are currently safe for people on bike or foot. In less than a decade, at least thirteen people have been injured or killed while walking or biking these bridges. As congestion and costs increase, we must have safe options for all modes of transportation.
As many designs have been studied and debated for these bridges for decades, the need for safe crossings only becomes more urgent. Citizens, business owners, and tourists alike want to travel safely between the peninsula, West Ashley, James Island and North Charleston without having to rely solely on motor vehicles. Job and housing security, as well as public safety, depends upon it.
You can view our work on a Better North Bridge HERE and the Wappoo Cut Bridge HERE. The James Island Connector is more complicated, with no safe pedestrian options allowed by SCDOT, and the latest study from the City on bicycle access HERE.
ASHLEY RIVER BRIDGE PROJECT HISTORY
A safe Ashley River crossing for people on bikes and foot has been debated since the 1920s! In the 1980s, Mayor Riley began asserting that the problem should be solved. Real study began in 2010, with examination of a stand-alone bridge, a cantilevered bridge, and ultimately, conversion of the fourth lane for bicycles and pedestrians on the eastbound bridge (the Legare Bridge). The lane conversion on Legare was chosen as the best option, with the project lead being the City of Charleston, and the design included adding a left turn lane for motor vehicles where the bridge touches down at the intersection of Bee and Lockwood.
The Legare lane conversion project timeline went as follows:
- Left turn lane groundbreaking (February 12, 2016)
- Left turn lane installation (Completed April 1, 2016)
- Lane closure test period (February 2 — Early May, 2016)
- Charleston County releases test results (June 2016)
- Charleston City Council re-affirms support (July 19, 2016)
- Charleston County Council requests SCDOT weigh in on structural integrity of the bridge, 60-day deadline (September 20, 2016)
Charleston County Council officially voted to rescind support of the project on August 17, 2017, despite widespread public support (see map below), and at least three major bicycle crashes occurring during the year. The City of Charleston, as project lead, still supported the project, but was ultimately overridden by SCDOT.
Charleston Moves, Charleston County, the City of Charleston and project consultants convened to decide next steps. Consulting engineers asserted that the James Island Connector could not be cantilevered, and that the SCDOT would not allow pedestrians in the Connector’s breakdown lane. Project cost estimates of a stand-alone bridge adjacent to the Legare Bridge proved to be similar to a cantilevered design with a stand-alone portion along the bridge’s bascule (drawbridge). In October 2017, the City of Charleston and Charleston County approved matching funds ($1.5M and $3M, respectively) for a federal TIGER grant application to fund a stand-alone bike and pedestrian bridge. Charleston Moves helped gather support letters (totaling more than 80) and other documentation to assist with the application. Unfortunately, the grant was not approved.
In July 2018, the City of Charleston and Charleston County recommitted their matching funds for a new round of the federal grant application, now called the BUILD grant. Charleston Moves again assisted with support letters. For the second year, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) did not select the Ashley River Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge as a priority project for funding.
For a third time, the City and County recommitted funding and applied for a USDOT BUILD grant. Working together, we collected 222 support letters from businesses, organizations and elected officials. On November 6, 2019, the City of Charleston was officially awarded $18.149M in federal funding to construct a standalone bike/ped bridge over the Ashley River. With a local match (secured before the application was submitted in July), the total funds for the project come to around $23M, and the scope includes 3 intersection upgrades to ensure safe access to/from the bridge.
Inflation and supply chain issues have caused some delays and cost increases for the project. Again working together, the City of Charleston, SCDOT, BCDCOG and CHATS have twice identified the necessary funding to move the new Ashley River Bridge forward with the resources necessary to make it the best project for the most number of people.
West Ashley is the City’s largest residential population, and the peninsula is the largest employment center. The route is identified as a priority in the West Ashley Plan, People Pedal CHS, Battery2Beach and the East Coast Greenway.