Cleveland bus rapid transit (copy)

Cleveland's bus rapid transit system is serving as a model for a Charleston mass transit line that will connect Summerville and the peninsula. Center for Neighborhood Technology/Wikimedia

The incoming Lowcountry Rapid Transit project aims to address the region's traffic woes with a new form of transportation — a special, faster bus line — but concerns are looming about how it may reshape neighborhoods.

That's why regional planners hope to engage North Charleston residents and others as officials study what kind of redevelopment could take place along the 23-mile route between Summerville and downtown Charleston.

Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Government's Board of Directors received an update Monday about the Transit Oriented Development Study that also will examine the best locations for the 18 stops along the route and what kinds of offices, homes, and infrastructure might be built nearby. 

The regional agency received an $880,000 federal grant last year for the study that will launch in the next few weeks.

Planners emphasized that the study will include community engagement efforts, such as workshops, interviews and one-on-one meetings.

The new route is expected to increase property values and developers' interest along the path, especially near its stops. But housing affordability and displacement remain a primary concern among residents, and planners want to be transparent about those possibilities, said Kate Ange, president of Renaissance Planning, the group leading the study. 

"We know from the get-go that's going to be a really big issue," Ange said about displacement. "There's not a silver bullet answer to all of this." 

The bus route, which is still in the planning stage, will feature dedicated, separated lines along at least part of its path. The location of all the stops is not yet determined, though one stop will be near Rivers and McMillan avenues.

That intersection, home to a vacant Navy hospital and a razed shopping center, is one of North Charleston's most blighted but also one that the city and county have struggled to revitalize. It still lacks a nearby grocery store.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments announced it had received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to initiate project development. the agency's capital investment grant program is expected to provide an important chunk of the project's estimated $387.5 million total cost.

Ron Mitchum, the BCDCOG’s executive director, said the news "is another huge step forward."

The planning agency expects to select a locally preferred alternative by August 2020 and have that folded into its larger long-range transportation plan by January 2021. Service could begin in late 2025.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The bottom of this story has been updated.

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