It can come as a surprise to no one in the Lowcountry that I-26 is inadequate for increasing traffic between Charleston and Summerville. For years, it has been mulled, cursed, studied and restudied.
And while the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments doesn’t have the answers yet, a new $1 million study, being done by Davis & Floyd, is encouraging in that it promises to think big.
The report, paid with a federal grant, goes beyond the same old suggestions: Widen the highway, add buses or be bold and go for commuter rail between Charleston and Summerville.
The COG report will additionally consider bus rapid transit, light-rail, monorail and high-speed rail.
Less likely possibilities are magnetic levitation, personal rapid transit and aerial tramway — options that do everything from hover over tracks and run 300 mph (propelled by magnetic force) to small, lightweight driverless electric vehicles on a guideway with on-demand, non-stop service.
And don’t forget ferries. Or maybe do forget them. They probably don’t hold much value between Summerville and Charleston.
The project, also supported by CARTA, TriCounty Link, the S.C. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration, should take more than a year to complete.
The process calls for inviting public participation via two meetings. We urge people to attend and speak up. The propensity has been, in dealing with this issue, to explain why things cannot be done instead of looking for ways to do them. For example, we’ve been told that people weren’t really ready for mass transit here.
In accepting that the solution to more traffic is more paving, commuters have continued to pollute more and waste more time on the road.
Even with the more expansive study in progress, a COG spokeswoman predicted that only a few would be considered viable alternatives.
Perhaps energy from the public, who have experienced high-tech mass transit in other cities, and who are not interested in the Lowcountry settling for a system that is simply the most doable, will push the consultants to be bold in their recommendations.
It would be foolish to opt for mass transit that will not work for the Lowcountry.
But it would also be foolish to think small. Charleston and its environs are growing rapidly, and the area is becoming even more popular as a tourist destination.
It can take years to plan, fund and build a mass transit system. Planners should be thinking towards that future.
Realistically, this planning should have been done years ago. As it stands now, the traffic is expected only to get worse until something is done to alleviate it.
Let’s make sure that the plan chosen for the Lowcountry is the best to keep pace with growth and serve the Lowcountry comfortably and efficiently for a long time.