Three years after Charleston County Council voted down a plan to convert one lane of the T. Allen Legare Bridge for bicycles and pedestrians, and decades after the need for a crossing was first identified, there’s still no safe way to get from West Ashley to downtown Charleston without a motor vehicle.
So it’s welcome news that Charleston city officials plan to reapply for a federal grant that would help fund the estimated $22 million cost to build a dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge.
It’s less encouraging that this will be the third attempt to get money for that project, which emerged as a solution after the lane conversion idea was rejected.
A separate bridge has always been an ideal fix. It would be safer than a lane conversion and avoid any potential traffic impacts. It would also be more of a tourism and recreation draw in addition to providing needed transportation infrastructure.
But a bridge takes a long time to build. And it takes even longer when years are spent doing little more than waiting around for a thumbs up — or down — from federal bureaucrats. We’re already pushing three.
When Charleston officials applied for grant money for the bridge last summer, we urged city and county leaders to come up with a local funding plan if the application was rejected. We made the same request in December when that turned out to be the case.
We reiterate it once again.
Charleston County in particular ought to bear the responsibility in coming up with funds. County Council is the primary reason we don’t already have a safe crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians over the Ashley River.
They are also the custodians of the half-cent transportation sales tax, which several council members have recently asserted is so successful that it can fund a $330 million or more county commitment to building the rest of I-526 across James and Johns islands — without cutting into a list of other projects that voters thought they would be getting when they approved the tax in a 2016 referendum.
The Ashley River bike and pedestrian bridge is expected to cost less than 3 percent of 526’s full, eye-popping price tag, so it shouldn’t be any problem to find that money while County Council comes up with a third of a billion dollars for that misguided project.
Charleston City Council could also play a more aggressive role. Last year, City Councilman Bill Moody asked if money from a tax increment financing district that encompasses the new WestEdge development on the peninsula could help build the bridge.
Certainly that kind of infrastructure would benefit people who live and work in that part of the city, which is expected to grow into a hub of housing, science and medical research, and commercial activity. A bike and pedestrian bridge would be a fantastic use of some of that TIF revenue.
The type of grant the city is applying for is extremely competitive. In previous years only about 10 percent of hundreds of requests were approved for funding. It’s well worth another shot, but it shouldn’t be the only path forward.
Charleston has needed a safe way to get across the Ashley River without a motor vehicle for many years. It will need one with or without a federal grant, and local leaders ought to be more willing to do something about that.