The intersection of Highway 41 and Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant, which is in the early planning phases of a major upgrade, is a major choke point for traffic in the northern part of the town.
It’s even worse now that school traffic is a factor, given that seven Charleston County schools are within about 3 miles of that area.
A recent report by The Post and Courier’s Jenna Schiferl noted that morning traffic in Mount Pleasant increases by as much as 30% when school is back in session.
There’s not much that the town can do about that right now either. It might help if more kids rode the bus or carpooled to school. Older kids who can safely walk or bike could skip the traffic on the way to class. Town officials are working on traffic light timing to minimize headaches for commuters.
But the northern part of Mount Pleasant in particular is profoundly car dependent and poorly suited to adapting to changing traffic patterns.
Neighborhoods in that part of town are mostly large and sprawling and often only have one or two ways in and out. Many residents have to drive long distances — it’s more than 5 miles from the back of Park West to Highway 17, for instance — just to get to a limited number of main thoroughfares.
And those thoroughfares inevitably clog when thousands of residents are left to rely on just a handful of major roads — Highway 17, Highway 41, Rifle Range Road, etc. — to get around town.
Adding cut-throughs and boosting connectivity between neighborhoods would help parents get their kids to school without having to get out onto main roads, but efforts to do that have been controversial in the past. Many residents aren’t keen on the possibility of more vehicles on their neighborhood streets.
Over the longer term, Mount Pleasant will have to make some tough decisions that will allow it to gradually transition away from near-total car dependency. Or residents will have to accept the traffic that results otherwise.
But a particularly counterproductive choice would be to go completely overboard on the planned upgrade at the Highway 17 and Highway 41 intersection.
Charleston County transportation officials are coming up with designs to make traffic flow more freely there, where people turning left onto and off of Highway 41 clog traffic on an already busy Highway 17.
The county’s preferred design — a behemoth plan with crisscrosses, traffic circles and other bells and whistles — could most generously be described as innovative, in the sense that it’s certainly not something heretofore seen in the Charleston area.
There’s just not really any need to do so much. Single-lane flyovers for the left turns or some sort of similar fix probably could resolve most of the traffic flow problems without the 10-lane madness county officials have dreamed up.
Mount Pleasant has car traffic because there aren’t very many other ways for people to get around town or for kids to safely get to school. There’s no road wide enough or traffic pattern innovative enough to fully fix that problem. Focusing instead on connectivity and transportation options might be one answer, though.