Tough solutions needed for Lady’s Island traffic problems

in Voices by

By Paul Butare

Planning and discussion of traffic and building new bridges for Lady’s Island has been discussed for more than 20 years.

Here are some of the key points on the subject:

• The nearly 60-year-old Woods bridge is now at capacity.

• In an article in a local newspaper in May 2015, the bridge opened 4,000 times over a two year period, with 660 of those for commercial traffic.

• Each time there is an opening there is delay which causes traffic to back up on Boundary Street, often to Bellamy curve. On Lady’s Island, it backs up past the boat landing.

• Improved opening schedules instituted over the last 18 months have improved the situation somewhat and made the openings more predictable and less frequent.

• Calls for the replacement of the bridge have created much discussion ranging from the difficulty in building a typical span bridge without disrupting main street and the historical district, and there is talk of attempting to make it a national landmark.

• Discussions of a faster, vertically opening bridge have continued. However, substantial criticism has been due to cost, and most loudly about the removal of one of our city “icons.” Additionally, the solution does not allow for substantial additional bridge capacity and does not impact the “pinch points” at Boundary Street and on Lady’s Island.

• The Boundary Street project will have the effect of reducing the volume of traffic on Boundary Street while routing more traffic to Ribaut Road and the McTeer Bridges.

• A span connecting Lady’s Island to Bellamy Curve was often discussed and rejected for neighborhood and aesthetic reasons. The Boundary Street project reduces the usefulness of that solution even further.

Over the years, state, county and city officials have discussed a “Northern Bypass” which circumnavigated the runways at the end of MCAS, and connected to Lady’s Island.

Through a 2006 referendum, the taxpayers made $6 million available for a study of the feasibility of a Northern Bypass.

The results of the study were summarized in a 2009 article by LIBPA as follows:

“Once the voters approved the 1 percent sales tax referendum, the Beaufort County Engineering Department wisely directed the study be conducted in phases and the first phase was to (1) identify realistic alternative routes to relieve the traffic problems projected by the Northern Regional Plan and (2) determine if these solutions (to include the “Northern Bypass”) could be justified by the benefits they would provide. This phase of the study, conducted at a cost of $488,591, answered the question regarding a northern bypass as follows “In summary, none of the alternate Northern Bypass routes were deemed feasible by the cost-benefit analysis.”

Further, the study pointed out that the bridge proposal had “insufficient positive economic impact” which prevented even consideration for federal funding. The cost to build such a bridge was estimated to be $116 million in 2009 dollars.  It has been estimated by some that the current costs would be $150 million to $200 million.

So where does that leave us? Replacement of the Woods Bridge, short of it simply ceasing to function, seems unlikely due to aesthetic and community concerns. A crossing at Bellamy curve is unlikely due to similar aesthetic and community concerns. A Northern Bypass is unlikely in the next decade due to its cost and the cost/ benefit.

Traffic is increasing and in fact worsening with new construction of commercial and residential developments.

The Woods Memorial Bridge is at capacity and efforts to reduce backups have been implemented. The McTeer Bridges are not at capacity, but the intersection of Sea Island Parkway and Sam’s Point Road are where the combined traffic from the Woods Bridge and McTeer intersect. That intersection is expected to fail as soon as the Walmart opens. As new businesses are approved along the Sea Island Parkway, they will serve to worsen the already known and existing traffic problems.

In an effort to find solutions to the transportation challenges faced by Lady’s Island representatives of the city, county and state have agreed to meet and seek solutions for the problems including a study by outside experts. The results of this study are expected to be concluded by December 2016.

Perhaps a plan to link future approval of new high-volume businesses to the ability of existing or planned roads to handle the additional traffic will evolve from the study. That is, to have road capacity or plans to increase road capacity in place before major traffic producing developments are approved.

And how will this increase in road capacity be funded? That is a question for city, county and state officials to answer.

Paul Butare is the LIBPA Transportation Representative.