IOP parking still up in the air

The state Department of Transportation has OK’d Isle of Palms plans for a beach daytripper parking pass but Mayor Dick Cronin said he is not certain the program can be implemented by this summer.

It will be at least two months before the Isle of Palms will know for sure whether it will implement a beach parking pass system this summer, Mayor Dick Cronin said Friday.

“We’ve got a lot of ducks to line up and they all have to quack at the same time,” Cronin said.

City Council has to hire a software vendor to make the system work by selling passes online. The number of passes that will be issued daily and their cost is yet to be determined. More beach service officers will be needed to check that visitors have the required pass. Signs must be installed designating where parking will be allowed, he said.

If it happens, the city wants to implement the new parking system by Memorial Day. Rolling it out later in the summer has not been considered, he said.

Traffic gridlock and resulting safety issues because of difficulties moving around the island are the primary concern prompting the city to make the parking pass a priority, he said.

On Tuesday, the IOP City Council Ways and Means Committee will review the issues left to be resolved before the beach parking pass program can happen, Cronin said.

The state Department of Transportation sent a Jan. 9 letter to Cronin advising that the proposed neighborhood street parking pass was OK.

“SCDOT staff has reviewed your proposal and we find that it is within the purview of municipal authorities ... to regulate on-street parking,” Deputy Secretary for Engineering Christy Hall said in the correspondence.

DOT approval was critical because it owns most of the island roads and controls use of the right-of-way where the road shoulders are located.

“The SCDOT recognizes the city’s right to institute this parking regulation and does not foresee an adverse impact on the state-maintained system within the city,” she said.

Sullivan’s Island has been considering charging a fee for a summer visitor parking pass. Officials there worry that a new IOP parking pass will drive more beachgoers to Sullivan’s to park for free.

“We are actively interviewing vendors. Our goal is to position ourselves to implement a managed parking plan this summer,” said Andy Benke, town administrator.

On Memorial Day, IOP had 1,044 vehicles parked along public road shoulders at the peak of the day. The island county and city lots, with a combined capacity of 2,000 vehicles, were full. Thousands more came to the island to park on private property while visiting friends and family, officials said.

As Sullivan’s and IOP wrestle with summer parking, CARTA is moving ahead with its consideration of a beach shuttle system. The cost and proposed route of a shuttle will be presented at the CARTA board meeting on Wednesday, board Chairman Elliott Summey said.

“We’re only three months away from May. If we’re going to pull the trigger we need to pull it pretty fast,” Summey said.

On IOP, some residents have put up obstructions in the roadside right-of-way where visitors would otherwise park. That action has reduced potential parking areas by nearly 60 percent, according to consultant Stantec, a company hired to study parking issues on IOP.

Residents have complained that some visitors block driveways, park on lawns and leave a mess behind.

A parking pass system is not intended to make money for the city. Fees would be set to cover expenses only, Cronin said.

Average daily traffic on a summer Saturday was 26,000 vehicles on the IOP Connector, double the rate in the winter. On Palm Boulevard, it was 9,600 vehicles in the summer and 5,400 in the winter, according to Stantec.

Folly Beach began an annual parking pass program last summer. It costs $100 and gives purchasers the right to park in small city-owned lots sprinkled up and down the beachfront. Otherwise, the parking spaces cost $8 per day. Folly hired a contractor to manage the program.

Folly allows free visitor parking in residential areas as long as the rules are followed such as no parking in driveways. Also, tires must be off the road.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711