Plans on track

The Players: The $1 million federally funded study of mass-transit options for Interstate 26 is a cooperative effort of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority, TriCounty Link, the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration.

What’s next: The project, which is just getting under way, is expected to wrap up in April 2014. Before that happens, two public meetings will be held at a time and place to be announced. They will happen at key project milestones to share the results of the mass-transit options analysis and receive public comment.

Crystal Frank Proctor spends 10 hours per week stuck in her car while commuting on Interstate 26.

Riding solo

Less than 1 percent of South Carolina workers use public transit.

79.9 percent of those who drive to their jobs are alone in their vehicle.

2 million automobiles and 1.6 million trucks are registered in the state.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, state Dept. of Transportation

“I hate living in Summerville just because of the interstate,” she said.

Mass-transit alternatives

The tri-county-area planning agency says these forms of public transportation are being evaluated in a $1 million study of ways to relieve Interstate 26 traffic congestion from Summerville to Charleston:

BUS SERVICE: This mass transit is available through the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority. In 2011, CARTA reported 4.4 million passenger trips. It has two park-and-ride express routes in the I-26 corridor. TriCouny Link offers a park and ride from Summerville to the CARTA stop in North Charleston.

BUS RAPID TRANSIT: A system where buses have designated lanes outside of normal traffic. (Example: Los Angeles)

LIGHT-RAIL TRANSIT: Short passenger railcars that move on tracks in a right of way separated from other traffic. They are driven electrically from an overhead line. (Example: Charlotte)

COMMUTER RAIL: Urban passenger train service consisting of local short-distance travel between a central city and adjacent suburbs using electric or diesel locomotives or self-propelled railroad passenger cars. (Example: Chicago)

HEAVY-RAIL TRANSIT: Service operating on electric railway with the capacity for heavy traffic with rapid-acceleration passenger cars in a separate right of way. (Example: Atlanta)

HIGH-SPEED RAIL: Diesel-electric or electric locomotives traveling at up to 150 mph. (Example: Europe)

MAGNETIC LEVITATION: Trains that hover above tracks that are levitated and propelled by magnetic force and can reach speeds up to 300 mph. (Example: China and Japan)

MONORAIL: Electric-guided transit vehicles that are suspended from or straddle a guideway formed by a single beam, rail or tube. (Example: Las Vegas)

PEOPLE MOVER: Electric transit vehicles operating on a guideway without a crew. (Example: Miami)

PERSONAL RAPID TRANSIT: Small, lightweight, driverless electric vehicles running on a special guideway with on-demand, non-stop service. (Example: Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom.)

AERIAL TRAMWAY: Electric-powered passenger vehicles running on a special guideway with on-demand, non-stop service. (Example: Portland, Oregon)

FERRY BOAT: Vessels carrying passengers and vehicles across a body of water. (Example: New York City)

Source: Berekeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments

The trip to her job as a paralegal on James Island typically takes an hour. And then there’s the drive home after work.

“I sit in traffic a lot,” she said.

Proctor is not alone when it comes to the I-26 rush hour commute.

In the tri-county area, the interstate handles an estimated 146,100 vehicle trips daily, which is 21,100 more than its designed capacity.

“In short, the region has a significant transportation problem and the historic solution of mere road-widening is both exorbitant and potentially infeasible,” says a new report prepared by Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments consultant Davis & Floyd.

So what is the answer? A $1 million federally funded COG study aims for a solution to the I-26 traffic mess as it evaluates futuristic sounding options such as a levitating train powered by magnetism that travels at 300 mph. At the other end of the mass transit idea spectrum is a conventional commuter train that pokes along at a more leisurely pace. Ferry boats, monorails, buses and aerial tramways also are up for consideration.

The effort conjures distant memories of Futrex, a much-publicized company at the former Charleston Naval Base that sparked the public imagination with its vision of local monorail service.

Now, thinking outside the box about mass transit is back as COG reopens a public dialogue on how best to move people around the Charleston area and get traffic off the roads.

“We have to list all options and explain why each would or wouldn’t work for this particular corridor, even the modes that seem a little farfetched,” said spokeswoman Jessica Gillis.

“Then we can start focusing on the few that remain a viable alternative,” she said.

The analysis of I-26 corridor transit options is not just another study destined for a dusty shelf. It also will tackle how to make a preferred people- moving system a reality, she said.

Until then, I-26 commuters will have to grin and bear it.

“If I were to relocate again, it would be a place with mass transit,” said Summerville resident Tate Lawson. “Buses get caught in traffic, too.”