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Live cameras could keep beachgoers out of a jam Towns seek funds to offer online traffic images

  • Updated
Live cameras could keep beachgoers out of a jam Towns seek funds to offer online traffic images

The Ben Sawyer Bridge was built using advanced bridge construction. File

Live online images could help beachgoers learn about travel conditions east of the Cooper this summer — if Charleston County agrees to pay for the traffic cameras.

Mayors of Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant have asked the county for its help.

“It’s a regional issue,” said Sullivan’s Mayor Pat O’Neil.

The islands have wrestled with beach-related traffic congestion for years, particularly on summer weekends. In response, both IOP and Sullivan’s will have new parking-management plans this summer that will limit visitor parking on certain neighborhood streets.

The traffic cameras, officials said, are a tool people can use to get a better sense of travel times.

“It’s not going to be magic, but it’s a great way of allowing residents and visitors to get real-time visual information,” O’Neil said. “If it’s really badly backed up, they could decide they’ve got better things to do with their time.”

The mayors presented their case for county funding of the traffic cameras in a letter to Council Chairman Elliott Summey. County staff recommended approval of the project and said it would cost $100,000 in transportation sales tax funds. The council’s Finance Committee, which includes all council members, will consider approving the camera funds at its meeting Thursday.

“We can have it up before beach season as long as we get the funding. The details can be worked out pretty quickly,” said Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page. The money would pay to install about a half-dozen cameras, mostly in Mount Pleasant, officials said.

The letter recommends separate cameras showing traffic on both the Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant sides of the Ben Sawyer Bridge. One of the cameras would show whether the bridge is open for boat traffic. The cameras could be placed on the fixed-span portion of the bridge or on land.

A county-funded traffic camera at the IOP connector and 14th Avenue on the island is suggested, but that will not be necessary because the city expects to have its new Webcam working at that location, Mayor Dick Cronin said. Beachgoers will be able to check the camera for traffic congestion onto and off the island, Cronin said.

“The sooner people have information, the better decisions they can make. I believe it should go live before Easter,” he said of his city’s new Webcam.

The mayors’ letter to Summey says beach traffic is a “critical matter” for the islands and Mount Pleasant.

“All that beach traffic must be funneled through Mount Pleasant, where chokepoints occur more and more frequently and in more and more places,” their letter says.

Summey said he supports the request for camera funding but has not yet spoken with other council members about it.

“It seems like a common-sense solution, and not a whole lot of money,” he said.

County Councilman Dickie Schweers, whose district includes the East Cooper area, said the proposal warrants serious consideration.

“Do I think that it’s a silver-bullet solution? Absolutely not,” he said, adding it could prove helpful.

“I will likely support it, but I look forward to hearing if anybody has any other comments,” he said.

Page said traffic cameras could be installed in Mount Pleasant at Isle of Palms connector and Rifle Range Road; at the connector and U.S. Highway 17; and at the junction of Ben Sawyer and Chuck Dawley boulevards.

She noted that the new cameras could help the new parking-management plans for IOP and Sullivan’s. “I think it’s a no-brainer that the town of Mount Pleasant support their efforts because they bottleneck on our side,” she said.

The idea may catch on the other side of Charleston.

Folly Beach has no beach-traffic cams, but City Administrator Spencer Wetmore said, “It is an idea we would like to explore, both with Charleston County and our City Council.”

New summertime parking rules on IOP and Sullivan’s have been under consideration for several years. Sullivan’s plans to limit visitor parking to one side of the street — a change that would cut the number of parking spaces for day-trippers from about 4,500 to about 2,800. Sullivan’s has asked the state Department of Transportation to approve its new street-parking plan. The island has enlisted an engineering firm to do fieldwork that will determine the number of parking signs needed and where they will be placed. It hopes to implement the new parking plan in June, O’Neil has said.

DOT has approved IOP’s visitor-parking management plan. About 300 to 400 signs will be put up on the island to identify where day-tripper parking is allowed. The new IOP parking rules will take effect from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. between May 15 and Sept. 15. Roadside parking will be allowed on Palm Boulevard between 21st Avenue and 57th Avenue and on the first block off Ocean Boulevard from 3rd Avenue to 9th Avenue. Parking on other island streets will be for residents, tenants and guests who will have a city-issued permit.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 843-937-5711.

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