In an unusual conclusion to several rounds of road planning for a major intersection in West Ashley's Northbridge area, residents and business owners overwhelmingly told Charleston County that building nothing would be the best choice.
The rejection of the county's road plans for a project that's been in the works — off and on — since 2006 leaves traffic planners looking for direction from the county's leadership.
The intersection of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard (S.C. Highway 7) and Old Towne Road (S.C. Highway 171) is considered a gateway to West Ashley and an important redevelopment area where the city of Charleston last year purchased a former Piggly Wiggly store and property.
The road plans would have eliminated the so-called "suicide merge," where some traffic on both northbound highways merge into a single lane, while improving traffic flow and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
However, each plan would have reduced access to the large Northbridge Terrace neighborhood and the Northbridge Shopping Center, and that was a key problem.
“As far as my neighborhood and the shopping center where I have my office, it’s not conducive for any traffic to get into the neighborhood or the shopping center," said Ann Jenkins, president of the Northbridge Terrace neighborhood group. "It really had the neighborhood and the area in an uproar."
In May, the county asked residents and business owners to choose between two alternative plans for the road network or they could vote for a "no build" option. A stunning 86 percent picked "no build."
“What we’re doing now is our consultants are going through those (comments) line by line to see what folks liked and disliked about the alternatives," said Richard Turner, deputy director for Operations at the county's Transportation Development.
“We’ll take that information and present it to our leadership and we’ll meet with the city," he said.
“The one that seemed to be the slightly less evil would have been the more costly one," Jenkins said.
The Charleston County half-cent tax is the funding source for the work.
Charleston County still hopes to move forward with some traffic improvements in the area but might look at more modest intersection improvements rather than a broad reworking of the large intersection and surrounding roads.
“Why don’t we just put a light that slows the traffic down and could avoid a lot of congestion at Orange Grove, where lots of the accidents occur?" Jenkins said.
The plans, whatever they end up being, will play a role in the city of Charleston's effort to redevelop the former Piggly Wiggly site where the two large roads meet. Some of the now-scrapped plans would have improved access to the large site.
“The city is prepared to move forward with a thoughtful revitalization of this site, regardless of what happens with the transportation improvements," said Jacob Lindsey, director of the city's Planning, Preservation and Sustainability department.
“You’re not going to see the city advocate for any one design for the intersection," he said. “We want to continue moving forward to find traffic flow solutions and safety improvements that neighbors support."