[October 30, 2023]
This morning, the City of Charleston hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Ashley River Bicycle & Pedestrian Bridge. Joined by a large crowd of supporters, we heard remarks from representatives of the City, County, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Charleston Moves is grateful to have been included in the speaker line-up. Check out the City’s press release HERE.
The new bridge and connecting intersections have required a full-scale, cooperative lift from all of these agencies in order to get to the point of awarding a contract. But the great news is — the contract is approved and the project team has officially started their work! The contract is design-build (just like the Ravenel Bridge), which means the team can begin construction before they completely finalize the design, which is underway. Design-build tends to be a more efficient process.
For folks who may be new to the area (or to this project), safe passage for people on bikes and foot across the Ashley has been a community priority for at least a century. Around 2010, City of Charleston Mayor Riley and Charleston County began assessing potential solutions, especially in light of the realization that the existing Ashley River Bridges would not even be considered for replacement for decades. Initially, adding a cantilever to the Legare Bridge (towards downtown) was studied, but it was determined that the bascule (drawbridge portion) of the bridge could not handle added or shifted weight — even a lightweight cantilever design. It was also determined that the Memorial Bridge (towards West Ashley) could not handle a shift in weight either. The County then studied converting the extra lane of traffic on the Legare Bridge to a bike/ped lane, which could have been a feasible option until the year 2022, when SCDOT anticipated traffic volumes would require taking the lane back for motor vehicles. In 2017, City of Charleston Mayor Tecklenburg directed the team to begin applying for federal funding for a separate bicycle and pedestrian bridge.
In November 2019, the Trump Administration selected the Ashley River Crossing project after the City’s third grant application attempt to what was called the BUILD Program (formerly TIGER, now RAISE). USDOT Secretary Chao awarded slightly more than $18 million, and the City, County and MUSC contributed a total match of $4.6 million. As the project team began working through federal requirements, including permitting, and the world entered into a global pandemic, costs inflated substantially across the board. The Biden Administration, including USDOT Secretary Buttigieg, began working with project teams across the country to address inflation’s effects on the grant winners. FHWA and SCDOT identified federal and state funding sources to bridge the funding gap for the Ashley River Crossing. It is important to note that the majority of these funds are exclusively for bike/ped projects; if Charleston did not use them for the Ashley River Crossing, the funds would be sent to other states for their bike/ped projects. In September 2023, Mayor Tecklenburg and the majority of City Council voted to allocate the necessary local match for these additional grants from surplus hospitality tax funds.
What does all this mean? First and foremost, it means the community rallied for a separate bridge after exhausting all other options. And it means the City of Charleston got an incredible deal on a new bike/ped bridge (plus associated paths and three improved intersections) by committing a total of approximately $13 million to connect the community and improve quality of life for everyone. The majority of non-City funds come from pots of money specifically for active transportation projects. And lastly, it means that our community’s leaders, at the local, regional, state and federal levels, recognize the importance of investing in safe, affordable and connected bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure — when we build for the most vulnerable among us, we all benefit. This momentous project will be the first bike/ped cable-stayed swing bridge in the country. It has come by way of unparalleled dedication, persistence and partnership, and promises to transform our region in the most positive of ways, for generations to come.