A faster work commute between Summerville and Charleston could be a reality by 2025—or sooner—with the proposed plans for a fully-operational bus rapid transit system in the Lowcountry, according to officials with the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments.
It’s no surprise to locals that traffic congestion is an ongoing challenge that’s only escalating with each added development across the region.
Although CARTA and TriCounty Link provide some connectivity, with public input the COG has agreed to study another solution to the often-sluggish commute between the Holy City and Flowertown.
To help prevent the daily gridlock on Interstate 26, the COG has suggested utilizing Highways 78 and 52 as a future corridor for bus rapid transit. Part of the organization’s ongoing i26alt project, the initiative’s goals also include operating a cost-effective system and one with little to no impact on the environment, according to Sharon Hollis, principal planner for the COG.
Hollis presented an overview of other public transit ideas and costs, along with the proposed long-term bus plan, during the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly “Power Hour” session Wednesday in Town Council Chambers.
She said while a light rail like the one in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one solution to congested traffic areas. But at an estimated $2 billion to construct, it's too costly. Plus, the tri-county doesn't quite have enough density to justify a rail line.
Instead, bus rapid transit—dubbed “a light rail on wheels”—is a proven system already operating in more than 160 other cities worldwide and the one the COG identified in 2016 as the preferred public transit for the proposed corridor.
While many particulars of the project are in place, several others remain undetermined, including exact locations of the proposed 18 stops along the 23-mile corridor. The first stop— or last, depending on a person’s destination—is suggested for downtown Summerville, but Hollis couldn’t quite answer where.
“We will be working closely with the mayor and town officials,” she said.
From Summerville, the bus would head down Berlin G. Myers Parkway to Lincolnville then College Park Road, Trident Medical Center and Charleston Southern University to Northwoods Mall in North Charleston. Other stops include Trident Tech, North Charleston City Hall and Shipwatch Square before reaching the Upper Peninsula, Romney and Huger streets. Stops would be stationed between a quarter- and a half-mile apart and wouldn't eat up too much time to ensure success of a quicker commute, according to Hollis.
She said the buses would most likely run from 5 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Stops along Rivers Avenue were concerning to some chamber members, who asked Hollis about how the COG planned to ensure rider safety in rough spots. She said COG officials hope to work with local law enforcement in various jurisdictions to devise added security measures.
The project also includes a much more developed and aesthetically-pleasing route along Rivers Avenue, with added sidewalks and other pedestrian and bike-friendly enhancements.
“It will be a very significant investment in that corridor in terms of pedestrian access,” Hollis said. “This is more than just putting a bus on the road; it’s a re-do of Rivers Avenue. ...The last thing we want is to abandon you...where you can’t walk anywhere.”
But to annually operate the system, about $6 million is needed. Cost assumptions are based on operating 16 partially or fully electric buses, though they might be entirely electric, Hollis said. Some of the funding has been identified by the voter bond referendum passed in Charleston County in 2016. COG officials said they will pursue federal funds to leverage $250 million in half-cent funds.
The timeline for implementing the new public transit system is tricky. While the end goal—still a bit fluid—is the year 2025, COG officials said much of the schedule depends on the special federal grant program, through the Federal Transportation Administration, that the organization plans to apply for this year. But even acceptance into the program doesn’t guarantee federal funding.
“You don’t know for sure until you get the funding grant,” Hollis said.
The i26alt project officially commenced its planning phase in 2014, with a 15-month comprehensive analysis study that incorporated numerous public meetings. The engineering phase is anticipated to start in 2021 with construction two years later.