Road widening to begin in spring

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Work to widen one of the busiest roads in town, Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, is expected to begin sometime in the spring and be finished in two years.

The Charleston County RoadWise program intends to award a contract for the project by the end of the year.

"This is our marquee project," said Jim Armstrong, Charleston County director of transportation development. Armstrong made a presentation Thursday to the state Department of Transportation Commission during its meeting at The Citadel.

Charleston County oversees the four-mile, $70 million Johnnie Dodds project, which runs from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to the Isle of Palms connector. It is funded through the half-cent RoadWise program sales tax voters approved in a referendum. The work will widen the road from four lanes to six lanes. Sidewalk, curb and drainage improvements also are planned.

Acquisition of more than 100 properties also is required for the road project.

"They're minor strip takes," Armstrong said.

Kurt Taylor, assistant county administrator, declined to give an estimated dollar amount for the strip takes because he said it was part of negotiations with property owners. Notices to affected property owners will go out at the beginning of next year, he said.

Traffic snarls are a daily occurrence on the boulevard, which handles 45,000 cars daily, a figure expected to jump to 70,000 by the year 2030.

In addition to relieving traffic, the town sees the road project as a starting point for a redevelopment project that would radically change the look and feel of the frontage roads, which would become more bike- and pedestrian-friendly with shops, offices, cafes and green space.

In recent months, Town Council has received Johnnie Dodds Boulevard redesign presentations from RoadWise consultant TranSystems Corp.

Councilman Paul Gawrych said Thursday that the key issue yet unresolved is the design of the frontage roads. He wants the roads to have a different look than the current design. He plans to put the issue on the agenda for the next council meeting on Tuesday.

"In my mind, we are not finished yet with what we want it to look like as far as the frontage roads. We have not officially voted and accepted the design of the frontage road," Gawrych said.

In addition to the RoadWise work, Mayor Billy Swails has said his top priority is widening 2.5 miles of U.S. Highway 17 from the Isle of Palms connector to S.C. Highway 41. The town has $14 million in the bank for the project. Work definitely will begin by the first of the year, and it is expected to take 18 months to get the job done, he has said. Swails could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The average annual daily traffic from the connector to S.C. 41 is 53,275 cars.

The town is seeking another $14 million to continue the widening from S.C. 41 to Darrell Creek Trail. The traffic count on that stretch is 34,075 cars a day. The road serves hundreds of businesses and is a main commuter route for major subdivisions in the northern part of town.