New rendering

This new rendering, including in Charleston's application for a federal grant, shows what a new bike-ped bridge over the Ashley River might look like. Provided

The federal government again rejected Charleston's grant application for a new bike and pedestrian bridge over the Ashley River, just south of the U.S. Highway 17 bridges.

Proponents of such a bridge are considering different steps to take next.

The new bridge, which would cost about $22 million, including the approaches, is seen as a more politically popular choice than converting an existing lane of traffic on the northbound Highway 17 bridge. That idea was studied but ultimately rejected by Charleston County Council because of the resulting delay during morning rush hour.

The problem with a new bridge, however, is that no one has figured out how to pay for it.

The city of Charleston first hoped to get a $12.2 million federal grant for the project, but that was rejected in March.

The city tried again soon afterward but learned this week the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected that application, too.

Keith Benjamin, director of Charleston's Traffic and Transportation Department, said he is trying to speak with officials from the federal agency to get their advice about a possible third attempt.

"We’re waiting to get that meeting scheduled so we can get the download,” he said Thursday.

The second grant application sought more money and expanded the scope of the project from $18.2 million to $22.2 million by including work on the approaches from both downtown and West Ashley.

The new bridge, like the existing drawbridges nearby, would have to be built to allow commercial boat traffic up the river.

Ashley River Bike-Ped Bridge Rendering

This rendering shows how close a proposed Ashley River bike-ped bridge (right) would be built to the existing U.S. Highway 17 bridges. Provided

Katie Zimmerman, executive director of the nonprofit Charleston Moves, said the group has identified a safe bike-ped crossing of the Ashley River as among its top priorities. She said her members will try to encourage city and county officials to agree to spend local half-cent sales tax money to get started.

Zimmerman said while local governments wait on a possible federal grant, they could start design work on a new bridge, proceed with making the James Island connector safer for bikes and study engineering options for getting pedestrians and cyclists safely across the Northbridge.

"We need to start going for local or state dollars on this, at least to get it going, even if that means phasing it out so we can get started while we figure out the rest of the funding," she said.

Zimmerman, who often commutes by bike over a small sidewalk on an existing U.S. 17 bridge, said the debate over how a safe river crossing for bicycles and pedestrians has not focused on safety data, even though Charleston County leads South Carolina in those accidents and fatalities.

"The problem is we have people who are dying," she said. “If we are truly a world-class city, we don’t let people risk their lives every day to work at restaurants downtown.”

New bridge rendering

The proposed Ashley River bike-ped bridge, right, with the James Island Connector in the background. Provided

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Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.