Fix West Ashley ‘suicide merge’

Potential uses for the closed Northbridge Piggly Wiggly site on Sam Highway are being debated. Wade Spees/Staff

The future of the old Piggly Wiggly site between Highway 7 and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard is in limbo, but one thing should not be negotiable: The “suicide merge” at the intersection must be addressed.

All seem to agree that the present merge is a hair-raising hazard.

It’s dangerous, for example, to turn left from Highway 7 onto Orange Grove Road because doing so requires merging and crossing another lane of traffic in a very short distance.

Peter Shahid, the city councilman representing the area, says he went to the Charleston County transportation office to talk and saw several solutions that have been designed. Now is the time to move forward with the best one.

Mr. Shahid reasonably insists that any fixes should include safe pedestrian crossings from Northbridge Terrace, Charlestowne Estates, Sandhurst and other nearby neighborhoods.

He’s right about that for several reasons — primarily people’s safety, of course. But resolving that issue also could provide new possibilities for how the 2.2-acre “Pig” property would best be used.

The developer was hoping to build a gas station and convenience store there. Neighbors and Mr. Shahid opposed the idea strongly. They see the property as a gateway to Charleston from I-26 and say it should reflect that.

They want it to be a place where residents of nearby neighborhoods can walk and a sense of community can develop.

Mr. Shahid hopes that, if it is re-used in a way that the community embraces, the benefits will spread and result in community-friendly projects in other parts of West Ashley.

It could kickstart some of the West Ashley rejuvenation that Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and councilmembers promised during last year’s election campaign.

Judging from response to the Piggly Wiggly site plans, neighbors are eager to see new energy in their area.

Hack Ezell, president of the Sandhurst Civic Association, would like for a welcome center and farmers market to go there, or perhaps a hotel.

Mr. Shahid gets his inspiration from the redevelopment of Avondale on Savannah Highway. The city put in crosswalks, landscaping, and encouraged pedestrian-friendly businesses like restaurants and a coffee shop. It is very popular with area neighborhoods.

He likes the possibility of the Piggly Wiggly property incorporating a dog park, a coffee shop and a restaurant.

Both Mayor Tecklenburg and Mr. Shahid have met with neighborhoods to solicit their ideas for this and other projects.

Residents have said that West Ashley needs a facelift and more — it needs amenities that make the area feel more cohesive.

But people who live, work or pass through West Ashley also need to be safe. The “suicide merge” must be a priority.