Next time the Ashley River Bridge opens for a boat passing on the water below, count the cars waiting in line. There's apt to be dozens and dozens.

Of course, many of the motorists are "passing through" - headed to their place of employment, shopping for clothes or a new car, grabbing lunch or visiting a relative in the hospital. Yet, a share of the traffic would be residents of Charleston's broad West Ashley community traveling downtown or returning home. The percentage could be quite high, considering West Ashley's 2010 estimated population is 57,000 people, or about half of the city of Charleston's resident total.

"Right off (U.S. Highway) 17, the location is great," says Susan Arrington, a Realtor with Carolina One Real Estate. West Ashley, she notes, is "well established. It's upscale."

But the area stands as more than convenient shopping centers, decades-old enclaves and swanky homes on area rivers and creeks.

Based on Arrington's observations, West Ashley is a "comfortable feeling area, close to everything, a diversity of homeowners." The wide expanse takes in parks, water, trails, shopping and dining. "The people who live in the area," she says, "are fantastic."

Another advantage for West Ashley: The sector still contains room to grow notably on its west end. New-home communities such as Carolina Bay from Pulte Group-Centex cobbled together large swaths of land to build a woodsy, amenities rich villages. Carolin Bay eventually will extend continuously from Savannah Highway to Glenn McConnell Parkway.

Arrington says the West Ashley real estate market hasn't fully recovered from the real estate downturn dating to 2008, although it's improving.

"I would say it's a supply and demand issue," notes the agent, who lists a 3,580 square foot Lowcountry style house in Croghan Landing for $875,000. "We are really (feeling) a lack of inventory," she says.

In pricing the Croghan Landing house, "I was looking at the 'comparables' (similar styled, nearby homes for sale). There isn't a lot." The two-story Rookery Lane property on half-an-acre and close to Stono River marshes went on the market in November.

Arrington says that "sellers are getting more where we want to be." She says owners don't necessarily need to hold out for top dollar. "You can price it right."

Across the way, Stephanie Wilson-Hartzog lists a six-year-old home with dramatic Ashley River views and a "banana tree driveway" off Parsonage Road and Highway 61 for $625,000.

"What an amazing opportunity to purchase a custom home with (river) views from almost every room," says Wilson-Hartzog, likewise a Realtor with Carolina One.

The home on Fiddler Crab Way provides evidence of the many perks that buyers can capture for a high-end residence with waterside sights, yet priced below $200 a square foot.

Her listing cites the following luxuries:

- Three porches, a sun deck and two covered patios.

- Hickory hardwood floors.

- Gourmet kitchen with cherry cabinets, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

- An elevator shaft from the garage to the second level.

- Master suite with jetted tub and tiled walk-in shower.

- Two-car garage with heated and cooled storage and a bar area.

To reach West Ashley from downtown Charleston, cross the Ashley River Bridge to Savannah Highway or S.C. Highway 61.

A wide patch of properties and land between the Stono and Ashley rivers out as far as Red Top can be considered within West Ashley including neighborhoods off Glenn McConnell Parkway, Sam Rittenburg Boulevard, S.C. Highway 171 and Orange Grove Road as well as Folly Road before crossing the Wappoo Bridge.

Reach Jim Parker at 9375542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.

West Ashley at a glance

Location: Charleston County

Number of homes: 12,000-15,000

Square footage: 750-5,460

Look & feel: Neighborhoods west of the Ashley River come in various sizes and looks. Closer to the river, communities tend to be secluded, wooded and more established with houses built as far back as the 1930s and '40s. A fast-growing area from the 1960s on has been the S.C Highway 61 corridor from Moreland to Shadowmoss and beyond. Streets along Savannah Highway lead to Stono River-side places such as Edgewater Park and to long-time villages such as West Oak Forest. Northbridge Terrace and Parkshore are two large, upscale neighborhoods off Sam Rittenburg Boulevard and Orange Grove Road. Homeowners run the gamut from young professionals with children to middle aged families, empty nesters and retirees.

Homes on market: 567

List prices: $19,900- $2,850,000

Schools: Montessori Community School; Springfield, Ashley River Creative Arts, St. Andrews and Orange Grove Charter elementary; C.E. Williams and West Ashley middle; West Ashley High, Porter-Gaud School (private).

Fun facts: West Ashley was a test case for annexation 50 years ago when the city of Charleston first tried to bring neighborhoods west of the Ashley River into the city; the first permanent settlement at Charleston Towne Landing in 1670 is situated west of the Ashley.