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Charleston City Council approves plans to help fund Lowcountry Low Line, Ashley River pedestrian bridge

Lowcountry Low Line (copy)

An artist's rendering shows the vision for the railroad right of way in Charleston's upper peninsula — a project known as the Lowcountry Low Line. Provided

Charleston City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to help fund the Lowcountry Low Line and an additional bridge over the Ashley River, setting two of the region's most ambitious bike and pedestrian projects on a path to reality.

Council supported a plan to split the cost of the $5.1 million Low Line project with the Friends of the Lowcountry Low Line, the nonprofit that's been working for the past year to create the linear park on a former rail line on the upper peninsula.

With the support, city lawyers can begin closing the deal with Norfolk Southern Corp., which currently owns the rail corridor from Woolfe Street to Courtland Avenue.

The city also plans to buy two additional properties from the company for a total of $2.28 million: a 0.71-acre tract near F Street that could be used to build new affordable housing, and a 1.85-acre tract near Mount Pleasant, Meeting and King streets that could be a hub for a new Bus Rapid Transit line.

That puts the city's total cost at $4.84 million, much cheaper than the $17 million sum the nonprofit estimated earlier this year. Norfolk decided to sell off some of its larger, more expensive parcels that were included in the original plan.

Mayor John Tecklenburg said the project will also be an opportunity to fix some of the drainage problems in that area.

Conservationists, historic preservationists and residents thanked council for its decision.

Mary Carmichael, the principal of Charleston Charter School for Math and Science on upper King Street, said the Low Line will give students a safer path to walk and bike to school. 

"Having that greenway behind the school will be excellent," she said. "We look forward to being good partners in the future."

Council also agreed to contribute $1.5 million to build a bike and pedestrian bridge over the Ashley River near the T. Allen Legare Bridge. The city is applying for a federal transportation grant to cover the majority of the $18 million project. 

Charleston County Council also pledged on Tuesday to spend up to $3 million in matching funds, but that share would only be spent on construction costs.

Chairman Vic Rawl explained that the city would be responsible for planning the project.

The bicycle advocacy group Charleston Moves will attempt to raise $1.5 million from private donors to help with the effort.

The sums approved Tuesday would only be spent on the bridge if the grant is approved.

The concept for a standalone bridge materialized after years of debate over whether to convert one of the Legare bridge's four northbound lanes to a bike lane. County Council withdrew its support for that project in August. Another idea to put the bike lane on the James Island connector was determined not to be feasible.

In a separate move, City Council also made some changes to the parking ordinance:

  • Vehicles with property-carrying license plates will have to be marked as a business-related vehicle to park in 30-minute commercial loading zones. 
  • Vehicles won't be ticketed for parking in spaces with broken meters.
  • The city now has the authority to tow cars that violate parking rules.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

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