BETTER NORTH BRIDGE » Public Comment Period

[December 15, 2021 — March 3, 2022]

Charleston County wants to get your input on potential route alignments for a separate bicycle and pedestrian bridge and multi-use path connection. Visit BetterNorthBridge.com for project details.

We cannot overstate the importance of participation at this time; it is imperative that we continue to demonstrate that this is a widespread regional priority. Your input will inform the selected alternative, which in turn, will position the County to develop and submit a federal RAISE grant application in July 2022.

The County is offering various opportunities to comment through 3/3/22:

  • In-person meeting #1: 12/15/21, drop-in from 4-7 pm at Lowcountry Food Bank (2864 Azalea Drive, North Charleston)
  • In-person meeting #2: 2/16/22, drop-in from 4-7 pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church (1157 Sam Rittenberg Blvd, West Ashley)
  • Virtual meeting: betternorthbridge.com/publicmeeting
  • Survey: HERE
  • Email: roads@charlestoncounty.org
  • Call: 843-202-7617
  • Mail: Better Northbridge Project, c/o Reveer Group | 2971 West Montague Avenue, Suite 101 | North Charleston, SC 29418
  • Charleston Moves will also be hosting outdoor tabling sessions (we are sorting out the details related to the latest COVID surge)
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AN EQUITABLE NORTH BRIDGE

Over the past six and a half years, four community members have been killed as they biked over the North Bridge between Azalea Drive in North Charleston and Poston Road in West Ashley.

  • April 13, 2021: Christopher Oliver on the bridge
  • May 27, 2020: James Burgess on the bridge
  • September 1, 2018: Tommy Dixon on the bridge
  • February 25, 2015: Jae Bellamy at the Cosgrove/Azalea intersection

In addition to these fatalities, six people on bike or foot have been injured on the bridge since 2013.

These injuries and fatalities are entirely preventable through safe, connected and equitable infrastructure. To that end, Charleston Moves is advocating for the overarching solutions identified in Charleston County’s 2008/2011 feasibility study (specific details may change based on feasibility of increasing opportunities): 

  1. construct a multi-use path leading to the bridge on the West Ashley side (completed, as well as the 2014 construction of Northbridge Park);
  2. place CARTA signage to encourage use of bus route 32 while identifying funding for a new bridge;
  3. construct a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge adjacent to the existing bridge. 

Here is what Charleston Moves and our Better North Bridge coalition have accomplished so far: 

  • Worked with Charleston County Council, who approved funding to develop conceptual alternatives and cost estimates for a separate bike/ped bridge.
  • Advocated for robust bicycle, pedestrian and transit enhancements for Charleston County’s Old Towne District Improvement Project and the City of Charleston’s Sumar Street Site Redevelopment, furthering the connectivity between West Ashley and the North Bridge. 
  • Requested CARTA consider increased service for Route 32 over the bridge — CARTA’s board approved increasing frequency within existing service hours, allowing bikes on the bus as necessary, and placing informational signage on each side of the bridge. These improvements will begin in early October 2021. 
  • Coordinated with City of North Charleston, Charleston County, BCDCOG, SCDOT and our advocates to request a Road Diet Study for Azalea Drive, to work on safe connectivity on the North Charleston side of the bridge — Charleston County funded and completed that study, which was favorable, and if the public feedback is positive, the lanes will be restriped during upcoming state resurfacing projects in 2021-22 to add bike lanes and encourage more appropriate, safer driving speeds. We will know more by October 2021 about whether this project is proceeding.

The County’s consultant is finalizing the conceptual alternatives and cost estimates, and anticipates a public input opportunity later in 2021. Results will then be presented to Charleston County Council. The Better North Bridge coalition will continue working to encourage any and all relevant agencies to invest in and construct the necessary infrastructure after Council’s review. This includes the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), Charleston County, the City of North Charleston, the City of Charleston, the State Legislature, and even the federal government and private entities. South Carolina has one of the highest fatality and injury rates in the nation for people biking and walking, and Charleston County leads the state in those rates. It is beyond time for these dangerous conditions on the North Bridge to be addressed, and for the region to provide equitable and safe access for multiple modes.

WAYS TO SUPPORT A BETTER NORTH BRIDGE

Current coalition members include:

  • ADC Engineering
  • American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina (ACLU SC)
  • Austen & Gowder, LLC
  • Bike Law
  • Care For Life
  • Charleston County Sheriff’s Office
  • Charleston Moves
  • Charleston Trident Urban League
  • City of Charleston Councilmembers Appel, Brady, Jackson, Sakran and Shahid
  • City of Charleston Mayor Tecklenburg
  • City of Charleston Police Department (CPD)
  • Coastal Conservation League (CCL)
  • Freehouse Brewery
  • Frothy Beard Brewing Company
  • Gruenloh Law Firm
  • League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area
  • Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC)
  • Lowcountry Food Bank
  • Lowcountry Lemonade
  • Lowcountry Local First
  • Metanoia
  • Moon Doggie Exteriors
  • Operation Home, Inc
  • Palmetto Cycling Coalition (PCC)
  • Reynolds Avenue Area Merchants Association (RAAMA)
  • Riverside Health & Rehab
  • Second Chance Bikes
  • Smithey Ironware Company
  • South Carolina Community Loan Fund (SCCLF)
  • South Carolina Representative Pendarvis
  • South Carolina Senator Kimpson
  • The Bend
  • Trident United Way
  • ULI SC
  • West Ashley Connects
  • Westminster Presbyterian Church

NORTH BRIDGE HISTORY

With no space dedicated to people on bikes or foot, and a small raised median with delineators down the middle, the bridge is one of the Lowcountry’s most hostile crossings for vulnerable road users.

Constructed in the 1950s, the bridge originally included a sidewalk, which was removed when the bridge was widened in the 1970s. In a 1980s state Supreme Court case against Charleston County School District (CCSD) for its encouragement of de facto segregation in schools, CCSD cited several schools on each side of area bridges, including Mary Ford and Orange Grove, to argue that it was too dangerous to bus children between predominantly white schools on one side of the bridges and the majority Black schools on the other sides.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has explained that they consider the bridge to be young and performing acceptably, so it is not on any replacement lists. The agency does not expect to replace the bridge unless a significant capacity improvement is proposed, but, even then, a replacement is unlikely.

Charleston County studied various alternatives for safe crossing in 2008 and 2011, as well as cost estimates at that time:

I. Restriping Existing Roadway/Bridge Facilities

Studied in 2008. Estimated cost $4.9M.

Restripe lanes to add bike/ped space. While this would work on the roadway, it would not work on the bridge itself. The bridge does not have enough space to accommodate a safe bike/ped lane, even after reducing travel lane widths, and would therefore require a reduction in travel lanes from six to four.

Determined that vehicular demand would exceed capacity by the year 2025.

II. Widening the Existing Roadway/Bridge Facilities 

Studied in 2008. Estimated cost $23.7M.

This would require adding 10′ of superstructure to each side of the bridge. The 1970s addition is inadequate to accommodate more loads associated with an added structure, requiring substantial rehabilitation to the bridge. Rehab would involve demolishing the 1970s work, bringing the bridge back to its 1950s state, then adding superstructure, new piers and beams.

Concerns regarding these additions include but are not limited to the age and structural adequacy of the bridge to handle this type of work. A “catwalk” was considered as an add-on instead. This would require a detailed structural analysis of existing components and 1950s pre-widening components to determine if structurally feasible, and SCDOT expressed concerns about hanging an additional load onto the structure.

III. Combination of New Location/Restriping

Studied in 2008. Estimated cost $2.6M.

This would require a 10′ bike/ped path along SC 7, leading to the bridge, and then a restriping of the bridge itself to accommodate a 5′ multi-use path with barriers. The bridge would then have four 10′ travel lanes and two 11′ travel lanes, and remove the median. A 5′ multi-use path, which is substandard, would be the maximum width available while retaining six lanes of travel.

It was determined not feasible because the combination of median removal and substandard path would make it unsafe for all.

IV. Lane Directional Control 

Studied in 2008. Estimated cost $2.9M.

This would entail an 8′ multi-use path on the bridge, with five 11’10” travel lanes that have two lanes going in each direction and a reversible lane in the center.

Determined it would require extensive signing and pavement markings, as well as special signing, signalization and additional control/monitoring devices. There would also be potential impact to the interchange, requiring coordination with the Federal Highway Administration. Additionally, safety concerns were expressed, particularly with the removal of the median increasing the risk for head-on collisions on a bridge with a substantial crash history.

V. Lane-Use Modification

Studied in 2011. Estimated cost $2.7M.

Eliminate one northbound lane along SC 7 and the Northbridge over the Ashley River between the intersections of SC 7 and Poston Rd./Durham Place and SC 7 and Azalea Drive for an approximate length of 1.50 miles. The existing travel lane to be eliminated is proposed to be converted into a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian lane located in the center median of the facility. This alternative would facilitate the need for crosswalks at the intersections of termini to direct bicycles/pedestrians from the proposed dedicated lane to the existing facilities. The alternative would include the use of concrete barrier walls to separate the bi-directional traffic from the bicycle/pedestrian lane.

Determined that vehicular demand would exceed capacity going northbound by the year 2025. Width of travel lanes would need to be reduced, which would likely not gain approval from SCDOT.

CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATION:

A three-phased approach as the best course of action, based on elements of the various alternatives studied, at an estimated cost in 2008 of $9.5M:

  1. construct a multi-use path and sidewalks leading to the bridge on the West Ashley side;
  2. install CARTA signage on the West Ashley side for temporary free CARTA service;
  3. construct a separate bicycle and pedestrian bridge.

The first two phases were completed, but progress was not made on the third until now.

Addressing the North Bridge connects directly to two active Charleston County projects on both sides of the bridge: sidewalks on Azalea Drive and multi-modal improvements at Sam Rittenberg Boulevard/Old Towne Road. Additionally, existing adjacent infrastructure includes a multi-use path along Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and the Northbridge Park. We are in discussions with the City of North Charleston, Charleston County and SCDOT about ways to improve Azalea Drive and the intersection of Cosgrove Avenue.

Making the North Bridge crossing over the Ashley River safe for people on bikes and foot is identified as a priority in 10 plans and addresses: CHATS 2040 LRTP, CCPRC’s People 2 Parks, City of Charleston’s Plan West Ashley, North Charleston’s PRIME, Walk + Bike BCD, Charleston County’s Comprehensive Plan, Partnership for Prosperity, the LCRT Preferred Route and Station Alternatives draft, and Mayor Summey’s 2020-21 State of the City Addresses.