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SC Highway 41 widening plan delayed once more; could still be altered

Ada Bennett Highway 41.jpg (copy)

Ada Bennett waits for an opening in traffic to cross S.C. Highway 41 to get to her cousin's house on the other side on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in the north Mount Pleasant area. Bennett and her family have lived in the Phillips community along Highway 41 for generations. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — Residents of the historic Phillips Community and the modern subdivisions nearby have been waiting for years on a decision about traffic relief on S.C. Highway 41.

They're going to have to wait even longer.

The controversial "preferred alternative" for widening the two-lane road through Phillips at the north end of Mount Pleasant was expected to be presented to Charleston County Council in October, then in November.

But the county's traffic planners are still reviewing that plan after getting nearly 2,900 public comments, putting the decision-making process off.

“It will be presented once we’re comfortable addressing the comments and any revisions," said Richard Turner, with Charleston County’s Transportation Department.

The outpouring of public comments, submitted through Sept. 11, showed a stark divide in opinions.

About half supported, and half opposed, the plan to double the travel lanes on S.C. Highway 41 and add a center turn lane or median, with a multiuse path along the side.

The substantial widening of the road through the historic Phillips Community — founded by formerly enslaved Black residents after the Civil War — prompted most of the opposition. Some called the plan racist. 

Highway 41 at Dunes West Boulevard Alternative 1 (copy)

Charleston County's online presentation of the Alternative 1 plan for S.C. Highway 41 includes this rendering of what the highway's intersection at Dunes West Boulevard could look like. Provided

The runner-up plan, which would route traffic through parts of the Park West and Dunes West, has faced substantial opposition from residents of those large subdivisions. New homes have been built near that considered route even as Charleston County evaluated the options.

Turner said widening the highway from the Wando River to its end at U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant — about 4 miles of road — is still the preferred alternative.

“Some of the comments asked for wholesale changes and others asked for smaller tweaks, and we have to look at all of that," said Turner. “We’re doing our due diligence to make sure that what we take to County Council is the right thing."

To move forward with whatever revisions the county's road planners may settle upon, the plan would be presented to Charleston County Council and would need review by the Army Corps of Engineers. The $125 million plan is funded by county half-cent sales tax money.

The impact of the leading road plan, known as Alternative 1, on the Phillips residents prompted a number of nonprofit and business groups to oppose it. They include the Coastal Conservation League, Historic Charleston Foundation, Charleston Preservation Society, Save Shem Creek, Charleston Moves, Lowcountry Land Trust, East Cooper Land Trust, Southern Environmental Law Center, Center for Heirs Property Preservation and Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

Supporters of the plan, many of whom live in the large, modern subdivisions that now feed traffic onto Highway 41, have argued that Alternative 1 makes the most sense because it would widen an existing state highway and cost tens of millions of dollars less than the runner-up plan.

highway 41 alternatives (copy) (copy) (copy)

Charleston County considered about a dozen options for traffic on S.C. Highway 41 before narrowing it down to two plans. The county picked Alternative 1, widening the road from two to five lanes through the Phillips Community. Provided

“There are no easy projects to fix our traffic," said Turner. "We’re trying to find the right balance.”

Some opponents of the plan are residents of smaller subdivisions along the highway, who have objected because the plan would make it harder to get in and out of their neighborhoods, in some cases by preventing left turns.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

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