Window Dressing or a Window of Opportunity?

County accepting comments on latest Harbor View plan until May 15

 By Charlie Morrison | Community Editor

 More than 150 residents were in attendance at Stiles Point Elementary last Tuesday, April 30 to hear representatives from Charleston County’s RoadWise program present their latest “preferred alternative” plan for the Harbor View Road Improvements Project.

The latest plan includes the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of Harbor View Road and Fort Johnson Road, two traffic signals with push-button operated pedestrian functions to be installed at the intersection of Harbor View Road with Fort Sumter Drive and Mikell Drive, respectively. The plan could include striped crosswalks to be placed at select intersections, as well as a change to the road’s speed limit from 40 to 35 mph. However, those changes would have to be ultimately vetted by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT).Traffic Light Overlay

Last Tuesday’s meeting was to introduce that plan to the public, that contingent upon City of Charleston and the Town of James Island’s official consent, will be shipped up to Columbia and Washington D.C. for state and federal approval.

The Harbor View Road Improvement project was among those that Charleston County voters approved in the transportation sales tax bond referendum in 2004 who authorized the county to issue $77 million in bonds for road work. The price tag for the Harbor View project hovered around $18 million, though $6 million is provided by Charleston Area Transportation Study (CHATS) federal guide shares.

Meeting attendees were buoyed by the opportunity to, one final time, officially have their voices heard regarding the proposal, many more seemed resigned to the fact that the plan as it now stands will likely remain unchanged.

_MG_8270All the same, Taylor and his staff insisted flexibility was still possible and input from the public still necessary. “This project, out of all the Transportation Sales Tax projects we’ve undertaken, has always had the most the most input, and that’s a very gratifying thing,” said Taylor. “Public input is necessary, and you out to be commended for continually coming out.”

Comments made by Project Manager Molli LeMin, however, beg the question as to whether last Tuesday’s meeting was a window of opportunity for the further evolution of the project, or mere mandatory window dressing being paid to a project that is for all intents and purposes, a done deal.

“We’re going to consider crosswalks at other locations and those will be based off of comments we’ve received but we still have to get approval from DOT,” said LeMin. “We’ll submit to DOT the locations that were preferred alternatives and wait for their response back.” As it now stands the current alternative also mandates the installation of five-foot-wide concrete sidewalks on both sides of road, four-foot-wide bicycle lanes next to the vehicle lanes and a 13-foot-wide center left-turn lane from North Shore Drive o Affirmation Boulevard.

HV and North Shore 2

“What we presented is the final design for the project. We did ask for comments because there are items that can be refined but those are only items that are controlled by the local jurisdictions, so we’re at the end of the tunnel this is going to be it,” said LeMin. “We’re going to do whatever is asked of us by Council but they feel that we’ve appeased all of the public’s comments at this point.”

One matter the County clearly hasn’t appeased with respect to the public is the closure of Sterling Drive, necessitated, according to the plan because of the extensive footprint of the roundabout intersection now slated for the terminus of Harbor View Road.

Sterling Drive residents will now be forced to access their street by using neighboring Clearview Drive. That matter, along with some of the community’s mistrust in the DOT’s willingness to in effect, choose safety over speed in denying additional crosswalks and traffic mitigation devices, has many in the community still on edge regarding the project’s outcome.

County Councilman Joe Qualey, who represents the area in question, was particularly miffed at the DOT’s rebuttal of the previous County plan, dubbed the “Qualey Option,” and like many of his constituents, appeared resigned to move on with respect to the saga that’s been how to widen and improve Harbor View Road.

HV T-intersection option   Roundabout Image

“We had a continuing dialogue with DOT, but the last time we dealt with them we thought we had the plan done, and all of a sudden DOT comes back saying they needed the path on the north side of the road,” said Qualey. “I vehemently oppose the closing of Sterling Drive. We’re not going to have people cycling all around through neighborhoods … that ain’t happening. That said, I am ready to make it (the entire project) happen. It’s time to turn some dirt.”

The issue of growth remains on the minds of all James Islanders, even on the predominantly populated stretch of Harbor View Road. The County’s environmental assessment makes mention of the 35-acre tract of undeveloped land, that is both zoned in the City and situated with access to what would be the partial center turn lane that comes with the design.

“Although no plans currently exist, development of this tract is foreseeable,” reads the report, which further states that if the land, congenially known as the “Mikell tract,” is in fact developed, an additional 105 dwellings and more than 200 cars could be added to the traffic picture.

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Ft. Sumter and H.V. Rd. Sign (close-up)

“You can’t stop growth, but I think you can do it the right way,” said Lisa Niess, daughter of 40-year Fort Sumter Drive resident Julie Niess. “The problem is people already cut through here to the connector. The problem is not this part of James Island, the problem is Folly Road,” she said.

“The growth is coming, but why allow growth when you don’t have the infrastructure,” said Niess. For her part, Niess’ mother Julie is anything but optimistic about the fate of the street she’s lived on for 43 years. “You cannot win, you cannot fight them,” says the elder Niess.

Public comments submitted on this latest plan for Harbor View Road must be postmarked by May 15. For more information on Charleston County RoadWise or the Harbor View Road Improvements Plan, see roads.charlestoncounty.org/projects/harborviewroad/

 

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