Drivers who use the U.S. Highway 17/Septima Clark Parkway through downtown Charleston will soon get a five-month break from orange construction barrels and closed lanes.
Work on the current phase of improvements should wrap up at the end of December, with the next installment not expected to begin until May.
That means it should be mostly smooth cruising until beach season begins for the 60,000 cars that use the route — informally known as the “Crosstown” — on a daily basis.
The Septima Clark, recognized as one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, is undergoing a $154 million drainage improvement that’s still several years away from completion. The recent steps have focused on fixing, adding or replacing near-surface drainage pipes, road improvements, sidewalks and cosmetics. Later, crews will dig an elaborate set of tunnels more than 140 feet down.
When combined with pumping stations, the effort will work to clear the area of thousands of gallons of flooding from torrential rains or high tides that have plagued the route and nearby neighborhoods.
In all, at least 500 acres around the mid-section of the city surrounding the route should benefit from the drainage effort by 2020.
The work so far has concentrated on the eastern portion of the Crosstown, in the vicinity of Coming to Spring streets for about three-fourths of a mile.
Laverne Green frequents the Crosstown daily on her way to work. She said she hasn’t had any problems in the area lately as heavy construction appears to have died down, and she’s grown used to the orange cones that line the area.
She said she was much more aware of the construction a few months ago than she is now.
“When all those workers were out there it slowed down traffic,” Green said. “It’s not bad. You just have to pay attention.”
Phase 2, scheduled to begin around May, will concentrate on the Crosstown’s western half: from around President Street — near where the road has its distinctive bend — toward Lockwood Boulevard. That work should take about 18 months to complete, including shifts after dark to minimize traffic blockages.
City of Charleston Public Services Director Laura Cabiness said she doesn’t anticipate any permanent lane shutdowns.
Nothing of historical value has been found in the work to date, she added.
“A lot of this area has been torn up so many times before for other utilities,” Cabiness said. “There’s very little that’s undisturbed.”
Some of the locals who live and work in the area said they like what they’ve seen in an area that experiences some of the worst of the city’s flooding.
“I think the work done so far, it’s beautiful,” said Arthur Lawrence, president of the West Side Neighborhood Association.
The real difference will be felt when the pumping stations and tunnels go online, he said, taking water off the road and dumping it in the Ashley River.
“It’s bad when you have to walk through water,” he said. “And kids who have to walk through water, that’s bad.”
Perhaps the local business most affected by the project is the Charleston Pizza Co., the lime-green building at the Crosstown and Ashley Avenue. Brooks Douan, shift manager, said one positive of the construction so far is that “it’s brought us some business because people are stuck in traffic and they see” the building.
The downside is times when “there’s a cement truck parked in front of our door for six hours while we’re still open.” The workers, though, “they actually spend a good bit of money in here,” he added.
Final note: For drivers concerned about the health of the 89 Everclear Lacebark Elms that line the route’s median, Cabiness said the trees are fine. They are just going through their seasonal change and leaf color turn.
“They are bred to be hearty,” Cabiness said. The trees were bred in Georgia from a type of elm native to China.
Reporter Christina Elmore contributed to this report.