Charleston Traffic: A Sh*tfest wrapped in a Clusterf*ck: Who is paying the price?

By Mark A. Leon

This afternoon, there was an accident on Highway 26 westbound near Aviation causing a backup nearly to downtown Charleston.  While on Highway 526 near Highway 17, the westbound traffic was blocked off due to another accident causing a 1 hour plus delay.  On River Road on John’s Island, a semi-truck jackknifed off the road blocking off traffic on both sides.  On the crosstown due to construction and a car stalled on the entrance to the crosstown off 26 Eastbound, there was a stop and go back up.

This was today.  This could be any day.

On a typical day, we experience traffic patterns causing extreme pain points throughout our home roadways.

  • The James Island connector can be backed up five or more lights during afternoon rush hour from downtown.
  • Folly Road is constant traffic in both directions throughout the day.
  • Savannah Highway, Bees Ferry, Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant, Harborview Road on James Island, Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant, Route 61 in West Ashley, Ashley Phosphate and Dorchester in North Charleston all suffer tenaciously difficult traffic issues.
  • Rivers Avenue is an adventure and not one for the weak
  • Cooper River Bridge leaving downtown Charleston during rush hour can be a parking lot

Who is suffering from this traffic mayhem that seem to not have a simple answer?

  • The South Carolina drivers wallets and pocketbooks – It was announced this week that South Carolina is raising the gas tax in increments over several periods to support a new state highway funding bill. Beginning July 1, the gas tax will go up 2 cents up to a total of 12 cents a gallon.
  • Vehicle owners in the Lowcountry – We can isolate a location like the Westside, Spring Street, Cannon Street and so on, but for locals, the wear and tear on our vehicles is punishing due to cracks, potholes and construction. A few months ago, the Post and Courier ran an article indicating that the average area car owner spends nearly $1800 annually in car repairs due to poor roadways and flooding.
  • Local business owners – In the past, the Lowcountry has had issues with isolationism.  Folks from James Island didn’t go to Mount Pleasant.  Downtown residents didn’t go to West Ashley and so forth.  In the last five years, that sentiment has grown stronger.  A 10-mile journey can run you 40 minutes or more and that is forcing many to stay truly local.  For small business owners who are fortunate to expand, they are opening multiple site locations throughout the Lowcountry, but for those that do not have the finances to expand, they are being pinched because they cannot get people from other communities to come and shop.  This is forcing many to shut down or look to e-commerce to grow their business.
  • Law Enforcement Charleston and Berkeley counties have amazing and dedicated men and women that work tirelessly to preserve our safety. With increases in accidents and more able bodies needed to support their efforts, state and local law enforcement are being taken away being visible in their communities.
  • Entire infrastructure of Charleston – Most of historic Charleston, SC is below sea level and we are surrounded in most directions by water and marsh. That is okay for walkers, and horse drawn carriages in our quaint historic town.  Even from a strategic standpoint, this area was blessed during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars because it made it very difficult for enemies to penetrate land and easy to defend.  Unfortunately, this area is not built for 45 new residents a day and 4.2 million tourists annually.  You don’t need a Master’s Degree in Urban Development to see that.

Traffic truly is a sore subject here at home.  Some don’t even venture out between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM or 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM on weekdays or try to leave for the beaches after 11:00 AM on weekends.  The results are “slow”.

The biggest fear, isn’t the inconvenience, increased gas prices or cost of vehicle maintenance, but that the future of the natural resources, the stability of the roadways and the safety of our citizens are in jeopardy.

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