Goal is 'vibrant' Johnnie Dodds

Terry Purcell walks along the Johnnie Dodds Boulevard frontage road in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, as she heads home from work. "It really bugs me when people say we have plenty of sidewalks. It's dangerous," she said.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, where traffic whizzes through town on four lanes, is slated to become six lanes but mimic a traditional main street with parks and medians, sidewalk businesses and bike and pedestrian paths.

The catalyst for the changes is the town's $70 million share of the RoadWise half-cent sales tax money.

The Planning Commission will consider a consultant's recommendations for the project at 5 p.m. today in Town Hall. The commission will then make recommendations to Town Council.

"Great streets are vibrant, exciting places where people want to work, shop and vacation. Our challenge is to leverage this public investment to create a great street that offers value to the town," consultant Thomas & Hutton Engineering Co.'s $50,000 report states. "Although Johnnie Dodds Boulevard is widely considered the employment center for Mount Pleasant, it is far from a traditional main street with on-street parking, civic buildings, park space and street trees."

Town Councilman Joe Bustos said the boulevard is dangerous on foot or bike. "There's nothing there that's conducive to walking or doing anything other than getting in your car to get to the other side," he said. A number of options have been discussed, including tunnels, overpasses and street-level crosswalks. Bustos objected to tunnels because they could flood and become crime zones.

Bustos, who was chairman of the Redevelopment Selection Committee that awarded the contract to Thomas & Hutton, indicated that a boulevard redesign will make for a more cohesive community.

At issue is the future of 3.5 miles of the boulevard from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Interstate 526. The report recommends a hospitality district on 250 acres near the bridge, which is where many hotels are now located and new ones are taking shape.

Also proposed is a 210-acre Health & Wellness District that includes a new East Cooper Regional Medical Center, the town's largest employer. The district would promote research and medical office uses that relate to and support a 140-bed hospital now under construction. Office and commercial districts that blend with existing neighborhoods also are proposed.

About 45,000 drivers use the boulevard daily. That is expected to jump to 70,000 vehicles daily by the year 2030. Town Council faces the challenge of balancing transportation needs with creation of an inviting boulevard redesign that will draw walkers, bikers and investors who will open sidewalk stores and restaurants.

When it was built in the 1960s, the boulevard was a way to get from one end of town to the other without having to go through the business district on Coleman Boulevard. As traffic increased, retailers set up shop on "the bypass." It became an architectural hodge-podge of buildings fronted by large parking lots with minimal roadside landscaping. It was all about cars.

Companies such as Benefitfocus have left the boulevard for Daniel Island, a trend that could be reversed with boulevard redevelopment, officials said. The project likely will follow the same sort of process as the Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Project, a $4.4 million effort that relied heavily on community input in the form of a Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Advisory Board.

The $14 million Memorial Waterfront Park on 22 acres at the foot of the Ravenel Bridge, which is planned for opening during Memorial Day Weekend 2009, will anchor the Johnnie Dodds Boulevard redevelopment.