Tom DiLiegro bought a house in Shadowmoss instead of one of several other outer West Ashley communities because he wouldn't have to make a left turn onto S.C. Highway 61 when he exited his neighborhood each morning.
Traffic slows to a crawl on portions of the narrow scenic highway, also known as Ashley River Road, during rush hours and school drop-off and pick-up times. There are no traffic lights, so crossing a lane of traffic to make left turn can take a long time.
DiLiegro was one of dozens of people from homeowners associations from communities along Ashley River Road between Bees Ferry Road and Drayton Hall who gathered Thursday for an initial meeting about issues that impact the area. The meeting was called by Charleston City Councilman Dean Riegel. Traffic was the largest concern among representatives from Ashley Plantation, Ashleytowne Landing, Arbor Trace, McLaura Bluff, McLaura Hall, Schieveling Plantation and Shadowmoss.
County Councilman Vic Rawl and representatives from the Charleston Police Department and the state Department of Transportation also attended the meeting.
The road runs from the Summerville area, past historic plantations and into heart of Charleston. Residential developments line a portion of it.
"This region can't handle any more development until these roads are addressed," said Sue Neill, who lives in Ashley Plantation. "Somebody, somewhere has to come up with a better regional plan."
Riegel said the meeting was simply a starting point to gather information about the area's needs. "Outer West Ashley continues to grow dramatically," he said. "And the state, city and county are not keeping up with it from an infrastructure standpoint."
Linda Spates, president of the Schieveling Plantation Homeowners Association, said the situation is especially difficult for developments on the east side of Ashley River Road. Drayton Hall Elementary School and a bike and pedestrian path are on the west side of the road, she said. Residents would like to walk their children to school, or use the path, but they have a difficult time crossing the road to reach them.
Five families in her development bike to school, she said. But it's very hard for them to cross the road. "As development here increases and the population increases, it's just going to get worse."
Rhodes White, who lives in McLaura Hall, said a school bus transports children from her development to the school, even though they live close enough to walk. It's simply too unsafe for them to cross the street, she said.
Rawl said the road can't be widened because it's a designated scenic byway. However, "there are solutions, but nobody wants to talk about them" because they are controversial, he said.
First, he said, there are no roads connecting the developments. If there were such roads, vehicles could move from one development to the next without using Ashley River Road. That could cut down on some traffic congestion but those who live in the subdivisions would see more traffic.
Another solution would be to extend the Glenn McConnell Parkway to S.C. 165 in the Summerville area. That would provide another thruway for traffic traveling into the city from Summerville and the rest of Dorchester County, and would reduce some of the traffic on Ashley River Road.
Riegel said after the meeting that he plans to see if it's possible to have a police officer stationed near the school as students arrive and leave to make sure children can safely cross the street.
He's aware of only one new development in the works in the area, the 91-home Magnolia Bluff community, he said. But some of the existing developments continue to grow.
"We don't want the Mount Pleasant scenario" of rapid growth, he said. "The city of Charleston is trying to manage growth," Riegel said, "but we could do better."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.