[image-1] The U.S. Department of Transportation will award the City of Charleston $18.149 million for the proposed Ashley River pedestrian bridge, according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday.

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant will help construct the standalone bridge that will connect downtown Charleston with West Ashley, primarily for pedestrian and cyclist traffic.

“The creation of a separate multiuse path would provide a safe connection between West Ashley and the Charleston peninsula for pedestrians and cyclists who do not have car access or rely on non-motorized means of transportation,” Graham said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in July.

“Today’s announcement is a massive victory for our community and everyone who has advocated for construction of the Ashley River Pedestrian Bridge over the years,” says U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who also petitioned Chao on the project. “This is the sort of 21st century infrastructure project the Lowcountry needs — one that emphasizes environmental sustainability while relieving traffic congestion.”

The entire bridge would cost just over $22 million, Keith Benjamin, Charleston’s director of traffic and transportation, told the City Paper in August.

Plans for a pedestrian bridge over the Ashley River were first introduced in 1976, and advocates have pushed various proposals for years. And while the most recent application for the BUILD grant was strong, some wondered whether DOT would fund the project because of a competing application to improve an interchange next to the Carolina Panthers’ planned facility outside of Charlotte. Charleston’s grant money comes from the $900 million available nationwide for BUILD grants.

“This connection is so vital to protecting so many lives, to providing safe access for all modes of transportation,” says Katie Zimmerman, executive director of Charleston Moves. “It’s something that the community has agonized over for decades and decades, and we’re finally going to see it come to fruition.”
[image-2] “This is going to fundamentally change how we move around this area,” says Zimmerman. “We still have lots of mobility issues throughout the county, but this is going to change how many cars are packing in and out of the peninsula, it’s going to change the cost of traveling for individuals, it’s going to change access for medical care, for work, for home. This is going to fundamentally change so much for the better.”

In 2018, the S.C. Department of Public Safety reported that Charleston saw a total of 26 pedestrian fatalities between 2011-2016, making it the most dangerous city in South Carolina for pedestrians and cyclists.

Talk about timing: Charleston Moves will hold its annual Pedal and Panache fundraiser tonight at Cannon Green.