MOUNT PLEASANT — Residents of some subdivisions close to Interstate 526 near the Long Point Road interchange say noise from traffic and the Wando Welch port terminal make it difficult to have conversations outdoors, and fear it could get worse.
At an evening meeting that attracted about 300 people Aug. 2, area residents learned about plans to redesign the busy highway interchange, with the leading options calling for a new port access exit that would impact some homes and businesses.
"We moved from upstate New York, looking for our dream home," said Tidal Walk resident Tony Polichemi. "No one told us about this."
The proposed interchange improvements are a small part of a potentially $4 billion plan to widen I-526, the Mark Clark Expressway, from Mount Pleasant to North Charleston. As with most road-widening plans, some properties will be lost to the project, and there will be winners and losers.
The Tidal Walk subdivision could see two or three homes claimed for the project, depending on the final plans, and homes close to the highway — including Polichemi's — would be even closer after the road is widened.
Not far away, off Long Point Road, residents of the Hidden Cove subdivision could get long-awaited relief from the stream of trucks carrying shipping containers up and down Long Point, making it hard to enter or exit the neighborhood.
"It sounds amazing," said Hidden Cove resident Jon Nelson, president of the homeowners association.
"There have been serious accidents in the past," he said. "I think the state officials know something needs to change."
What is looking like the most likely change would be a new highway exit from I-526 leading straight to the port. Currently, port traffic exits at Long Point Road, which has been overwhelmed with traffic.
Joy Riley, project manager for the S.C. Department of Transportation, said that even if the truck traffic is diverted from the Long Point interchange with a new exit, the interchange will still need to be redesigned.
"It's not just truck traffic that jams up that intersection," Riley said.
Traffic planners have put several options on the table, and both of the top-ranked plans call for creating a new exit leading to the port. Businesses along Wando Park Boulevard and a few homes in the Tidal Walk subdivision would stand in the way of those plans, and the state would need to buy them out if those plans move forward.
Some of the road plans also raise questions about access to the Belle Hall, Tidal Walk and Grassy Creek subdivisions from Long Point Road — about 1,200 homes in all.
Grassy Creek resident Will Jenkinson noted that one of the leading options, as part of redesigning the highway interchange, would no longer allow left turns from Long Point Road to Belle Hall Parkway, where a Waffle House is located.
"It's going to push all the traffic up to the Chick-fil-A," he said, referring to Belle Pointe Drive.
That would mean fewer ways in and out of those communities, and a longer way in for some.
"We know we're going to be hearing about that," Riley said.
She said there are rules about limiting turns close to a highway interchange, but said none of these plans are final and DOT will be working to minimize the impacts.
Grassy Creek resident Lee Lazarus is worried about the new port access exit, because the road trucks would take back to I-526 heading toward North Charleston would be an elevated ramp, bringing truck traffic overhead right by the community's entrance.
"It's going to make a difference for everybody," he said.
Lazarus said the plans seem to shift the problem of port truck traffic from Hidden Cove to other communities.
In June, the State Ports Authority recorded 112,692 trucks arriving at the Wando Welch Terminal gate to pick up or drop off shipping containers. The SPA is in favor of a new exit connecting the interstate to the port terminal.
Beth Ann Holbrook lives in the Belle Hall community, not far from the interstate, and said her dog, Turkey, sometimes won't go outside for a walk because of all the noise.
"Between the increased traffic and the port noises, it's just so loud," said Holbrook, who fears it could get worse following the road plans.
The area's greatly increased population and the increasingly busy port have been driving the need for the road project.
The average number of vehicles driving through the Long Point interchange is expected to increase by 66 percent by 2050, according to DOT, while the volume of heavy trucks on I-526 is projected to rise by 128 percent.
Public comments were accepted at the meeting at the R.L. Jones Center, and will be accepted online or by mail or email until Sept. 1. The phone number to talk with a project team member is 843-258-1135.
By the end of this year, DOT is expected to settle on a "preferred alternative" and hold another public meeting laying out that plan.