NORTH CHARLESTON — Charleston-area government officials and bike and pedestrian activists are making progress with a study that seeks to ensure safer transportation across the Ashley River.
The North Bridge, which spans almost half a mile from Cosgrove Avenue in North Charleston to Sam Rittenberg Boulevard in West Ashley, has seen several fatalities over the years that have sparked calls for improved access for walkers and cyclists.
Charleston County has for the past year been working with several people to develop a conceptual design for a 14-foot-wide pedestrian bridge that would run parallel to the North Bridge — formally the World War II Memorial Bridge on S.C. Highway 7 — providing people a safer alternative for walking and biking over the waterway.
This comes after previous studies determined that reducing the existing bridge's number of vehicular lanes, or connecting a pedestrian path to the side of the existing North Bridge would not be feasible.
"We determined the best path forward would be to build a separate structure," said Richard Turner, the county's deputy director of public works.
The decision for a pedestrian bridge has not been finalized, but key stakeholders believe there's enough support to ensure the North Bridge's safety issues are addressed.
The cities of Charleston and North Charleston, S.C. Department of Transportation, Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and Charleston Moves are involved in the efforts to improve safety at the bridge.
Charleston County Council decided last year to spend $85,000 on what has since been nicknamed the "Better North Bridge" study. The county is working to raise awareness and explore general pedestrian bridge designs before those ideas are presented formally to the public.
“We’re trying to show there is a need for this," said Sheila Sororian, a project manager with the county.
The location of the new bridge would be to the right of those driving from West Ashley to North Charleston along the North Bridge, Turner said.
The new structure could cost $20 million to $30 million, Turner said.
"That'd be my best guess today," he said.
County officials believe federal grants could be used to pay for the project, similar to how another Ashley River pedestrian bridge is being funded in the city of Charleston.
Funding could also come from the state DOT or COG, Turner said.
“We’re looking at all of those opportunities," he said.
The death toll on the bridge has remained consistent over the years. There have been three total fatal collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists from 2017 to 2021, according numbers provided by the state Department of Public Safety.
"We're losing lives," said Katie Zimmerman, executive director of the mobility advocacy nonprofit Charleston Moves. "I think we have collectively reached a point where it would be impossible to not address the problem."
Many people bike or walk the bridge to get to work, the grocery store or other appointments. Residents are eagerly anticipating safety improvements.
Charleston Moves has already been soliciting public feedback in North Charleston communities by setting up at key intersections where residents told volunteers how "terrifying" it is crossing the North Bridge.
Several people said they've walked or biked the bridge in order to get to work on time after missing the bus.
"The majority of the people we talked to said, 'Please do something about it,'" Zimmerman said.