Ashley bridge lane closure not ordeal some feared Impressions of impact on traffic vary widely during experiment

Three bicycles make their way over the Ashley River bridge using the temporary bike and pedestrian lane early Monday morning.

Monday morning marked the first commute across the Ashley River’s northbound bridge since one of its lanes was blocked off — and it appeared to go as experts expected.

Around 8 a.m., the loss of the lane appeared to slow traffic approaching the bridge from Folly Road by several seconds as two lanes merged into one, but that congestion had lifted an hour later.

But the impressions of the resulting congestion varied widely, and some noticed a big change.

Douglas Muller of Johns Island said he noticed traffic backing up on James Island back to the Terrace Oaks Antique Mall, which he said is abnormal.

“My normal commute was at least 10 minutes longer this morning than it is normally,” he said. “The congestion was bumper to bumper and it did not ease until I exited the ramp from the bridge on to Lockwood Drive.”

But Kurt Cavanaugh, director of Charleston Moves, had a different perspective. He watched traffic from the top of the round Holiday Inn between 6:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. and saw few brake lights or other signs of delays.

“The story is there is no story,” he said. “It looked like a very average commute. It wasn’t ‘carmaggedon,’ which was what everyone was fearing.”

Charleston County is monitoring the bridge’s lane closure, but county spokesman Shawn Smetana said Monday, “We’ll hold off on impressions until we give the public time to get used to the new traffic pattern.”

Several morning radio traffic reports didn’t mention the lane closure or any delays there, and the Charleston Police Department had no reported incidents, Lt. Peter Farrell said.

The county closed the lane Saturday afternoon to study its impact on traffic. There are three lanes on the southbound U.S. Highway 17 drawbridge and four lanes on the northbound bridge.

Cyclist and pedestrian advocates want to see one of those four northbound lanes permanently blocked off to create a lane like the one on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The county vowed to study the effects of losing a lane before committing to the project, which could cost about $2 million and would involve a new crash-proof barrier between pedestrians and motorists, a higher guardrail along the river and other changes. That could be built by next year, depending on the outcome of the current traffic test.

The county’s consultants predicted the loss of the lane would delay motorists by only 13 seconds or so — and then only during the peak commuting hours between 7 and 9 a.m. The county plans to wait a few weeks, until traffic adjusts to the loss of the lane, to gauge its impact.

County officials said bikers and pedestrians should not use the blocked-off lane during the study for safety reasons: The orange and white barrels on the road are not strong enough to stop any cars or trucks that might veer into the lane.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.