Palmetto Commerce Interchange 1 piece of the puzzle to addressing Charleston area's growth

The interchange would be around mile marker 207, roughly halfway between existing exits for Ashley Phosphate Road and University Boulevard (U.S. Highway 78)

A new Interstate 26 interchange in North Charleston is part of a broader attempt to keep pace with the region's rapid development and population growth that's caused heavy congestion on many local roads.

The Palmetto Commerce Interchange, designed to reduce travel times and increase traffic mobility in a growing corridor, is only a piece of the puzzle, said Richard Turner, project manager with Charleston County. 

“We are definitely trying to react as fast as we can to bring infrastructure improvements to the area," Turner said.

North Charleston residents heard detailed, preliminary plans Thursday night for the interchange at a public hearing held at Northside Baptist Church. The interchange would be around mile marker 207, roughly halfway between existing exits for Ashley Phosphate Road and University Boulevard (U.S. Highway 78).

Some said the project doesn't go far enough to address quality of life for nearby residents. But others, like Noel Casey, president of the Colony North Civic Association, look forward to some relief.

Northside Drive, home to neighborhoods, schools and businesses, is gridlocked in the mornings as motorists use the street to get to the interstate. 

"We've actually had families in Colony North that have moved away because of the traffic," he said. "The project has taken a long time to get to this place. We're delighted we're finally here."

The new interchange is designed to serve as a relief valve that gives commuters another point to access the interstate.

It'll help alleviate traffic along the parkway that's often backed up with motorists who commute south from Summerville and Ladson. Businesses along the parkway will have direct access to the interstate via Weber Boulevard.

Residents can offer input through July 15 on the project's website or by sending written comments to Charleston County at 4045 Bridge View Drive, Suite C204. Construction plans are expected to be finalized by spring 2020 and work could begin that summer.

“What we need people to do is take part in this milestone," Turner said.

The project, which began in 2017, went through several public hearings until eight proposals where whittled down to three. The current $46.3 million plan, also known as the Urban Diamond Interchange, was selected as the preferred alternative over two others because it would have the smallest impact on the existing community. 

The plan will displace five residences, as opposed to 17 homes in the two other proposals. Trees and shrubs would be planted to create a visual barrier for residents in the nearby Deerhaven subdivision.

While officials noted the project has a smaller footprint than other options, residents nearby remain frustrated that it doesn't include a noise barrier.

Residents in Northwood Estates have long asked for a wall to address traffic noises coming from the interstate. Some of them said Thursday they can't have conversations in their backyards without screaming. 

Russell Coletti, president of the Northwood Estates Civic Association, lives just 100 feet from the interstate. He said he is not opposed to a new interchange but feels that now is the right time to address noise concerns.

“We’re all for the growth," he said, "but take care of the citizens who will be negatively impacted.”

A noise analysis was conducted as part of the interchange project. While a wall would reduce noise from the interstate, the effort was not deemed feasible and reasonable by S.C. Department of Transportation officials.

Separately, Charleston County is currently conducting its own noise study in the Northwood Estates and plans to apply for federal grants to build a wall.

The interchange isn't the only effort underway to address the region's growth. In Palmetto Commerce Parkway Phase III, Charleston County plans to extend the road south from its current end at Ashley Phosphate Road. In total, the final parkway would stretch 10 miles from Ladson Road to Aviation Avenue near Joint Base Charleston, giving commuters a way to avoid the oft-congested interstate.

Officials plan to host a public meeting for that project later this year.

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Rickey Dennis covers North Charleston and faith & values for the Post and Courier.

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