West Ashley

Cars, pedestrians and businesses fill the intersection of Orange Grove Road and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard at the gateway to West Ashley. Four rival road plans call for improving that intersection, and the larger intersection of Sam Rittenberg and Old Towne Road in the "Northbridge Gateway" area. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

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.

Tecklenburg musicians at Pig.jpg (copy)

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg greets local musicians, including trombonist Bill McSweeney, who attend the start of the demolition of the former Piggly Wiggly supermarket on Sumar Street on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in West Ashley. Area musicians are lobbying for the site to be used as a performing arts center. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

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."

West Ashley residents' help needed to decide fate of key roads, Northbridge intersection

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.

Northbridge Gateway

The two rejected plans had price tags of $10.7 million and $14.6 million, in addition to a $450,000 budget for design work. 

“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.

City of Charleston buys former Piggly Wiggly site in West Ashley, beginning redevelopment plans

“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."

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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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