T. Allen Legare Bridge (copy) (copy) (copy)

A bicyclist (far left) without benefit of a bike lane crosses the T. Allen Legare Bridge over the Ashley River. Wade Spees/Staff.

A plan for an $18 million bike and pedestrian bridge over the Ashley River near the T. Allen Legare Bridge cleared a hurdle Thursday.

The County Council Finance Committee voted unanimously to spend up to $3 million in matching funds for the city of Charleston's application for federal funding to build the bridge.

The committee stipulated that the funds go for construction only and not other aspects of the project such as planning and design. Allocation of the money will not exceed a two-to-one ratio of county spending to city spending. Also, the first of the county funds will not be available until the federal grant is approved, the committee decided.

The committee recommendation goes to County Council on Tuesday which is the same night that City Council will consider committing $1.5 million in matching funds for the project application.

In the meantime, the bicycle advocacy group Charleston Moves will attempt to raise $1.5 million in matching funds from private donors to help with the effort.

Katie Zimmerman of Charleston Moves said she was pleased with the committee vote but she noted the project still has many moving parts and there is some degree of uncertainty about the final outcome and when construction could start. She anticipated that a bike and walking bridge would need to be about 12-feet wide to be practical.

The city will apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the remaining $12 million needed to build the bike and walking bridge.

Originally, the county was considering committing up to $2 million in half-cent sales tax money in support of the city application for federal funding to build the bridge. Councilman Teddie Pryor on Thursday proposed raising the amount to $3 million with the understanding that the money would go to construction and not preliminary engineering and design work.

The new plan for the cycling and foot bridge is a result of city, county and state officials getting together at the direction of County Council to consider alternatives to putting a bike path on the T. Allen Legare Bridge or the James Island connector.

The solution provides for "non-motorized connectivity" between downtown and the West Ashley Greenway without interfering with traffic flow, officials said.

Cycling advocates have long sought a safe way across the Ashley River. Those calls got louder after the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opened across the Cooper River in 2005, with a new 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian lane.

The bike and walking lane has a history of controversy and failed proposals dating back decades. A few years ago, the city, county and state agreed to move forward with a new plan to convert one of the Legare bridge's four northbound lanes to a bike and pedestrian lane. The southbound U.S. 17 bridge only has three lanes of traffic. A traffic study showed the change would cause only about a 1-minute delay for motorists during the morning rush hour.

In August, the council Finance Committee, which includes all council members, voted to send a letter to the DOT withdrawing its support for converting a lane of the Legare Bridge to bikers, walkers and joggers. At the same time, the committee expressed its support for putting the bike lane on the James Island connector but staffers for the city, county and DOT determined that was not feasible.

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Reach Prentiss Findlay at 843-937-5711.