Huger Street to get $2.5 M makeover with bridge mitigation money

Officials are considering improvements along Huger Street in Charleston.

Huger Street is set to get a makeover, bringing the thoroughfare across the peninsula in line with the booming development plans on Morrison Drive and upper King Street.

The project will include “streetscape” improvements to Huger Street between Morrison Drive and King Street, a stretch that became more heavily traveled after the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opened in 2005, said Beth Brownlee, the city’s senior construction project manager.

The street, which now looks worn and barren, will have new lighting, curbs, sidewalks and an 8-foot-wide paved path for pedestrians and bicyclists, Brownlee said. It also will be realigned to provide more space for parking. Construction likely will begin late this year or early next year, Brownlee said.

The project likely will be a hit with commuters and nearby business owners, but it has raised questions among those who advocate for low-income people impacted by bridge construction.

Edwin Pearlstine, a co-owner of the Palmetto Brewing Company on Huger Street, said the improvements will be great. “The whole area is changing,” he said. “Huger is just going crazy.”

But Elizabeth Jenkins, president of the East Central Neighborhood Council, said she doesn’t think the project is a good and fair use of money provided by the state Department of Transportation for mitigation projects related to construction of the Ravenel Bridge.

City leaders said the Huger Street improvements will cost $2.5 million, and will take most of the $3 million provided by the SCDOT for mitigation.

The money should do more to help the neighborhoods that were left in disarray by the bridge construction, Jenkins said. “We lived during the ordeal of the bridge. Sometimes our houses would shake.”

She thinks the money should have been spread throughout the neighborhood, putting in some sidewalks, lights and parks. “It may be a done deal,” Jenkins said, “but it’s not the right deal.”

Tim Keane, the city’s planning director said the mitigation agreement between he city and the SCDOT includes a list of mitigation projects. But completing them all would take more than $3 million. City leaders and City Council, with input from the public, prioritized projects.

Huger Street was deemed important because traffic on it increased dramatically as a result of the old bridges being removed, Keane said.

He also said that the city has spent money on other mitigation efforts, such as building affordable housing on Engle Street.

City Councilman Robert Mitchell, who represents the area, said he’s heard some people say that instead of the city using the money on Huger Street, it should use it to build affordable housing in the area where the old Cooper River bridges touched down. But $2.5 million simply isn’t enough money for that project, he said. It is, however, enough money to complete the Huger Street project. And, he said, the city soon will unveil a plan for bridge-area redevelopment.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.