‘A huge deal’
Charleston City Council last week approved the first reading of a measure to use just over $1 million from the city’s Hospitality Fee to support the Ashley River Crossing Project, a plan years in the making to build a bike-pedestrian bridge across the lower Ashley River.
The bridge would tie into the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway, a widely used, nearly eight mile long trail spanning inner and outer West Ashley. The bridge would span less than half a mile of water directly south of the T. Allen Legare Bridge, connecting West Ashley and the peninsula and providing a safe, easy way for residents of downtown and West Ashley to get back and forth without cars.
City officials estimate the final cost to be about $41.2 million — and the city is only $1 million shy of that total. The $41 million raised so far has come from a combination of local, state and federal funds, including a recent grant for $14 million from the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Study.
“This is a huge win for the community,” said council member Karl Brady. “Once this bridge is completed, you’ll be able to go on the Greenway from downtown, across the bridge, all the way to my district near the Limehouse Bridge on Johns Island. That’s a huge win for mobility in this city — to be able to do that without ever having to have bikes or pedestrians get on a road.”
City leaders aren’t the only people excited to get the project underway. Katie Zimmerman, executive director of local mobility advocacy group Charleston Moves, spoke ahead of the council’s vote at last week’s meeting.
“I just wanted to thank [City Council] for [their] continued leadership on the Ashley River bike and pedestrian bridge,” she said. “It’s a huge deal. It’s going to be legacy-making for our region. It’s going to save a lot of lives and make commutes a lot more enjoyable.”
Once fully funded, the city believes the construction contract for the bridge would be awarded in March of next year. They estimate the project will be completed in 2026.
Pedestrian safety has been an ongoing discussion in Charleston and South Carolina as a whole. Several pedestrian and cyclist deaths are reported every year as people cross bridges with no dedicated pedestrian walkways or bike lanes. South Carolina ranked No. 4 in the nation for highest pedestrian deaths in the U.S., according to data from the U.S. Census and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The picture is even more grim for cyclists. According to mobility analytics firm Streetlight, in terms of overall serious accidents, South Carolina is the second most dangerous state to ride a bicycle, and 4th in overall fatalities. (3.11 pedestrian and 3.5 cyclist deaths per 100k).
This isn’t the only project in the pipeline set to help pedestrians and cyclists cross the river. The Better Northbridge Project, still in the early stages, involves building a standalone bike and pedestrian bridge adjacent to the existing Northbridge which extends from Poston Road in West Ashley to Azalea Drive in North Charleston.
While the Northbridge carries less traffic per day than the downtown bridges, it has even less safe access for pedestrians and cyclists. There have been four cyclists killed on the bridge since 2015, according to county data. Even more have been injured.
City officials and community leaders have both stressed the importance of pedestrian access in curbing these unnecessary injuries and deaths.
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