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Commentary: Work on the Isle of Palms connector could pose safety problems for many

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Isle of Palms Fire Chief Ann Graham, left, helps raise a tropical storm warning flag over the Isle of Palms Connector in 2018. The chief, now retired, is concerned about new pavement markings on the connector. File/Mic Smith/AP

Much controversy led up to the construction of the Isle of Palms connector, which opened for business in 1993, but even the naysayers use the bridge to this day.

The bridge is named after Clyde M. Dangerfield, a former state representative and chairman of the Charleston Area Transportation Study Policy Committee. I was with him the day he passed away and was pronounced dead on the connector, as he was being transported from his Isle of Palms home to the hospital.

A young woman passed away in the center lane of the bridge shortly after the opening of the connector. The accident she was involved in resulted in several changes, including placing yellow markers along the center of the bridge to alert drivers when they are crossing over and potentially heading into oncoming traffic.

As fire chief, I fought for decades to keep the center lane accessible for fire, police and EMS vehicles responding to and from the island. I retired Dec. 31, but I am still very passionate about keeping the center lane designated and open for emergency vehicles for the safety of the island’s residents and visitors.

About 10 years ago, a teenager was thrown through the back windshield of a small white vehicle when that car was T-boned. The girl had glass in her trachea. She was fighting for her life. I requested that the Meducare helicopter land on the bridge near the scene. The teenager survived because of excellent patient care on scene and proximity of the helicopter.

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I was driving toward the Isle of Palms on Monday morning when a Charleston County EMS ambulance needed to pass multiple vehicles. I, along with many others, pulled over to the right and ended up in the “bike lane.” The EMS unit took the center lane for safety and proper clearance. I almost took a picture to send to the city administrator.

Recently, the S.C. Department of Transportation created a plan to redraw the lanes of the bridge without consulting emergency officials or any other leaders with the city of Isle of Palms, and the agency is proceeding with the changes immediately despite instant objections from the city and many residents.

In widening the space for bicycles on both sides of the bridge, the new design will shrink the middle lane from 10 feet to 4 feet, which will undermine its availability in emergency situations, including on busy beach weekends when traffic can become gridlocked.

The new design also increases the potential that an incoming or outgoing traffic lane will have to be shut down when an accident occurs, making gridlock and emergency response delays even more likely. I understand the desire for more space for bicyclists, but life safety must come first.

Ann Marie Graham is a retired fire chief for the Isle of Palms and an island resident.

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