Weather permitting, two lanes of U.S. Highway 17 on the Charleston peninsula are expected to reopen Thursday morning as an initial phase of the $154 million drainage project for the Septima P. Clark Parkway is completed.
For travelers, that means the orange traffic barrels that have been used to close two inner lanes on the peninsula’s main transportation artery will be gone and the Crosstown will once again be six lanes. A lane in each direction has been closed for about six months.
“I wondered when they would do that. That’s going to make a big difference,” said E.L. Smith, who on Tuesday was reading a book on the front porch of a house fronting the southbound lanes.
However, the 2 to 3 inches of rain that were expected Tuesday night into today could set the stage for more of the sort of drainage problems that have plagued the Crosstown.
But officials said that regardless of how much rain falls, the situation will be better because of the work that has been accomplished so far this year in the initial phase of the project. And Crosstown drainage will get progressively better as each part of the work moves forward toward completion in 2020.
When that day arrives, the Crosstown will drain well even during a torrential rain at high tide, said Mayor Joe Riley.
As things stand now, it is not unusual for stormwater to gather in pools or small lakes on the roadway, depending on the severity of rainfall. The flooding problem has extended to nearby neighborhoods.
In the just-completed work, new drainage pipes more than twice as large as the old ones were installed, which is expected to mitigate the effects of heavy rain. The median of the thoroughfare has been landscaped with trees and other plantings. In all, some 500 acres along and near the Crosstown are expected to benefit from the new drainage system, which is about one-eighth of the peninsula.
The effort now shifts to the outside shoulder of the northbound lanes where new sidewalks, curbs and gutters will be installed. Street lighting, landscaping and irrigation will be completed by November.
The city is preparing to bid the next phase of the work, which will include surface drainage work on Spring, President, Fishburne, Bee and Cherry streets and Ashley Avenue that is expected to begin in the final quarter of this year.
The bulk of the funds for the project, $88 million, were approved in February by the State Infrastructure Bank.
As part of the project, a 140-foot-deep tunnel will be built under the city to channel stormwater to the Ashley River where a new pump station will move thousands of gallons per minute.
In Sept. 2010, Riley went to Washington to secure a $10 million stimulus grant for new curbs and gutters. The city is contributing more than $30 million, but residents won’t see their property taxes rise directly as a result.