The closing of a portion of the James B. Edwards Bridge should serve as a reckoning for the motoring public — that is to say, nearly everyone — in the Lowcountry.
While the bridge was closed, traffic lines stretched east and west along I-526 as state Department of Transportation crews worked feverishly to restore a snapped cable inside the bridge’s westbound span. For the past few weeks, drivers have been forced to devise modified commuting strategies that range from picking back roads to selecting a different time to come into the office.
Maybe, however, this was the push the region needed to begin collectively thinking outside of the one-person-on-four-wheels box. We live in a place, after all, where 90 percent of commuters drive to work alone.
Many championed various ways to mitigate commute times in response to the bridge closing — and with an eye toward continuing those behaviors long-term. Ideas include carpooling, flex time, telecommuting, public transit and others. We concur and would point out that there is a tool in place to help individuals and employers get organized when embarking on a better commute.
We’re referring to Lowcountry Go, a pilot “commuter services” program launched this year and funded by DOT. Low Go features an online dashboard connecting residents to carpools, bike routes, transit trips and more. Information — and Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments staff assistance — is available for individuals and employers seeking forward-thinking strategies. Learn more at lowcountrygo.com.
CARTA, meanwhile, thanks to DOT funding, deployed greater service in Mount Pleasant during the bridge closure. Increases included connections to water taxis, additional park-and-ride options and more frequent service. It’s what public transportation should look like east of the Cooper, if proper resources were available to the transit system full-time.
Ultimately, increased regional thinking, collaboration and action may be the long-term good that comes from our recent pinch. We often hear calls for regional visioning and planning, much of which is already happening. We hope those who are rightly advocating for such efforts will be heartened by the following work underway:
• Lowcountry Rapid Transit: The forthcoming Bus Rapid Transit line will be the region’s first true mass transit project, connecting Summerville, North Charleston and Charleston. A consultant has been selected to lead initial engineering and environmental review, and a contract should be finalized later this summer. More information is available at lowcountryrapidtransit.com.
• Long Range Transportation Plan: A federally mandated 25-year look ahead to prioritize transportation projects. It’s the key document for federal infrastructure funding in the region. An update will be completed in the coming weeks.
• Regional Transit Framework Plan: Together with the overall long-range plan, this framework will set the foundation for transit investment as part of a multi-modal transportation system. The ongoing study is examining how we travel across the region and where development patterns are favorable to high-capacity transit services. There is an open house June 6 at Charleston Southern University. Learn more at bcdcog.com/framework.
• Regional Park-and-Ride Study: This study, to be completed this summer, will produce a comprehensive plan identifying dozens of suitable sites for permanent satellite parking locations in the region.
• CARTA: Charleston’s public transportation system isn’t actually that bad! A real-time app allows for bus tracking, and on-time performance over the past 12 months is nearly 90 percent. It’s not the CARTA of even two years ago. Give it a try, if not immediately, then on June 21 when the system will try to set a single-day ridership record of more than 20,000. Learn more at ridecarta.com/dumpthepump.
• TriCounty Link: The region’s rural public transportation system is reorganizing routes to increase efficiency.
It’s a lot to take in, but regional transit and transportation are complex issues with no silver-bullet solution. Reinvigorated focus and collaboration on these challenges, however, may be a cracked cable’s silver lining.
Ron Mitchum is executive director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and CARTA. Teddie Pryor is chairman of the COG board of directors and a Charleston County Council member. Mike Seekings is chairman of the CARTA board of directors and a Charleston City Council member.