By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
Despite the objections of Isle of Palms residents and unanswered questions from members of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, the South Carolina Department of Transportation is moving ahead with plans to change the configuration of the IOP Connector bridge to accommodate bicyclists, walkers and runners.
Work is expected to begin soon on SCDOT’s plan to reduce the center lane, established when the bridge was built in 1993 as an emergency lane, from 10 feet to 4 feet wide. There will be a 5-foot pedestrian lane and a 4.5-foot bike lane on each side of the bridge.
State Traffic Management Engineer Robert Perry was present at the Public Safety Committee’s online meeting Feb. 4 to discuss the project, but Council members apparently weren’t satisfied with the answers to their questions.
“The answer I would like is for them to take a deep breath and work with the city,” Public Safety Chair Randy Bell commented later.
“An appropriate plan would be to work with us for something that works for everyone. They did not do that. They came with a plan that had zero engagement with the city.”
Bell said he went through all the comments provided to the committee and that of 71 offered by people who don’t live on the island, 68 were in favor of SCDOT’s plan. However, he added that 37 out of 43 IOP residents thought it was a bad idea.
“I am all in favor of improving bike and pedestrian access to the island, but we have incredibly wide lanes now. I’ve never seen a situation when they were overcrowded with bicyclists or pedestrians. It would feel to me like a solution looking for a problem, instead of addressing the real problems that we have,” Bell said.
IOP residents and committee members were concerned that without the emergency lane, it will be more difficult for emergency vehicles to get on and off the island and also make leaving the island a much more time-consuming task.
Council Member Jimmy Ward questioned why SCDOT is even considering the project.
“That bridge is 28 years old. It looks like the dimensions work out just perfectly. Why now?” he asked.
According to City Administrator Desiree Fragoso, there have been 34 accidents on the bridge in the past twoand-a-half years, none of them involving cyclists or pedestrians, and Battalion Chief Richard Hathaway said that in many cases, the 10-foot center lane keeps the Fire Department from having to shut down most of the bridge when there is an accident. Ward added that when the Connector was built, “people wanted an emergency lane on that bridge.”
Perry said the work on the bridge would be completed in 60 to 90 days, though he didn’t provide an exact starting date for the project. On Feb. 5, in response to a question about receiving input from the city, he responded: “IOP was provided the plan a few weeks ago, and SCDOT discussed it with their Council yesterday, so dialog has taken place. Based on yesterday’s discussion, I plan to provide the city with SCDOT’s complete streets policy and have offered to conduct safety audits on some intersections on the island that they mentioned yesterday but have not yet provided me with the specific locations.”
Members of the Public Safety Committee apparently weren’t satisfied with the answers Perry provided.
“It’s beyond me that there’s not some kind of community involvement before there’s a plan dropped on us,” Council Member Phillip Pounds said.
“If you go forward, there’s going to be a very angry community on this side of the bridge,” Bell added.