Ashley River Bicycle & Pedestrian Bridge
THE LATEST VICTORY
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!
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.
In July 2021, the City’s Capital Projects Department unveiled updated renderings of the project to City Council’s Traffic & Transportation Committee. City staff have been working diligently through the project approval checklist, including permitting. The City estimates the design-build will get started in 2023, with construction completed by 2025. That presentation can be found HERE.
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 (link forthcoming). 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. The City of Charleston’s memo on the subject states: “Our next step will be to schedule time with the Government Affairs Office of USDOT and the staff who oversaw the BUILD grant review process to understand their decision making and further improve our next application.”
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.