A concerted effort by bicycle advocates and local elected officials is paying off with much improved bike and pedestrian access for the planned Highway 41 bridge over the Wando River. Bravo to Charleston Moves, which took the lead in convincing the state Department of Transportation to revise its plans.
Instead of 5.5-foot-wide raised sidewalks on either side of the bridge, there will be a 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian lane.
Tom Bradford, executive director of Charleston Moves, called it "great news."
The decision was announced by DOT chief Robert St. Onge in an email on Saturday.
But another major issue remains unresolved. At 55-feet high, the bridge is way out of scale. A reduction in height is essential. The resolution of the access issue should encourage elected officials to vigorously pursue a further revision in the bridge's design.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott says his staff is "conducting meetings with the Coast Guard to examine whether a 55-foot bridge will be the most effective use of state funds for this project, and the possibility for other alternatives."
Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page wrote to Mr. St. Onge "to reaffirm Town Council's preference for a 35-foot bridge height ... and a fully protected multi-use path on both sides of the roadway." Councilman Paul Gawrych, who has argued for a lower bridge for years, notes that council unanimously backs it.
But Mr. St. Onge said in his email that he will pursue plans for the 55-foot-high bridge, for fear that a delay will create stumbling blocks to its completion. If the highway commission doesn't move ahead next month, the result could be "the forfeiture of an excellent bid for the construction of the new bridge," he wrote.
Better to have an excellent bridge in scale with the surrounding area than "an excellent bid" for one that's too big. And a smaller bridge will certainly cost less than the extra-large model now on the drawing board.
The community will be living with the new bridge for many years. It is vitally important that the old bridge be replaced. But it is also important that it be replaced with one that meets the area's present and future needs.
The experience with the Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River clearly made the case for enhanced access. While it complicated the design process, the bike and pedestrian lanes have proven immensely popular.
Making the Hwy. 41 bridge bike-friendly is important, too. The population is increasing in proximity to the bridge, and both Mount Pleasant and Berkeley County plan multi-use bike and pedestrian trails at each end of the bridge.
Mr. St. Onge deserves credit for shifting gears on bicycle and pedestrian access.
But the bridge's height is still a big issue. Most, including local Coast Guard officials, agree that 35 feet is ample. But the design is for 55 feet - a profile that will loom large over the surrounding rural and suburban area.
The S.C. DOT has been told that a 35-foot-high bridge might not fly in Washington, and the entire process could be set back.
That is curious. Why would authorities insist on a bridge that costs more and is higher than necessary?
But sometimes good sense prevails even in D.C., particularly with the support of South Carolina congressmen. It is worth making the effort to insist on a 35-foot-high bridge - with a roomy bike and pedestrian lane.
Sadly, widespread public awareness of the bridge debate has grown only recently. The design is complete, and DOT is preparing to award a contract in February. That makes it more difficult to change course.
But it is not impossible. Our elected officials should use their influence to slow the process long enough for an appropriate design to be presented.
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