Any of the thousands of people who sit in traffic daily to and from Summerville and Charleston — and points in between — almost certainly understand why a new effort to grow and improve regional public transportation is an idea whose time has come. Past time.
The problem was underscored while motorists simmered in I-26 traffic for up to three hours one morning last week as two wrecks were cleared.
Over the years, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority has talked about a broader regional system. The TriCounty Link, which offers rural service, has talked about it. The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments has talked about it. Environmentalists have talked about it. But progress has been painfully slow.
Top regional leaders agree it’s time to make it happen, and have formed a committee to see that it does.
The committee includes the mayors of Charleston, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, Summerville, Goose Creek and Moncks Corner. Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis, and Dorchester County Council Chairman Bill Hearn also will serve.
So will Charleston County Council Vice Chairman Elliott Summey. As chairman of CARTA, he already is up to speed on the planning to date. Sadly, Mr. Summey says the next step is not likely to include light rail, which would answer a myriad of needs but cost billions of dollars.
It would be a grave mistake, however, to sell the idea short. The region is growing fast, and many people are moving here from areas with broader use of public transportation. Light rail would move transit in this region sharply forward and serve it well into the future.
Some have discussed commuter rail from John Street in Charleston to Summerville, but Mr. Summey insists that isn’t a real solution because it would not provide adequate service to North Charleston, which has the highest ridership on CARTA.
Mr. Summey suggests that a first step would be to designate lanes — perhaps on Rivers Avenue — for high-speed buses.
“People still think of buses as being for poor people,” he told us. “But when drivers stuck in traffic watch a high-speed bus pass by with passengers using Wi-Fi or sending texts, I think riders will come.”
He estimates that a busway from John Street up to the intersection of Hwy. 52 and Hwy. 78 near Goose Creek could be accomplished for $150-$200 million.
If that works, then light rail might be given an impetus, he says.
The committee will have to consider what kind of service to provide and how to pay for it. But it will also have to consider its governance.
Mr. Summey says dissolving the present transit agencies — CARTA and TriCounty Link — and establishing a new one might be the best idea.
It’s time to dust off the studies that have been done and to put the data to use. The committee members’ combined political muscle should be enough to get regional public transportation up and going.
I-26 can’t get any wider in the metro area, and the number of people living in Berkeley and Dorchester counties and working in Charleston and North Charleston is only going to grow.
Better public transportation is essential.
Members of the newly formed transit committee should accelerate toward a regional solution.