City leaders face growth, transportation problems

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published June 5, 2014

Growth and transportation are the biggest issues on the table for Lowcountry municipalities, according to leaders from Mount Pleasant, Charleston, Summerville and North Charleston.

“People don’t like change, and there’s nothing we can do to change that,” said Tim Keane, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation and sustainability. “As people see growth happening, they want to see that it’s going to impact their lives in some positive way. The most substantial way that’d be is in regards to transportation.”

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey (from left), Charleston planning director Tim Keane, Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page and Summerville Mayor Bill Collins spoke about issues facing their municipalities at this morning's Power Breakfast. (Photo/Kim McManus)
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey (from left), Charleston planning director Tim Keane, Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page and Summerville Mayor Bill Collins spoke about issues facing their municipalities at this morning's Power Breakfast. (Photo/Kim McManus)
Keane spoke on a panel along with North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Summerville Mayor Bill Collins and Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page during the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Power Breakfast Series this morning at the Charleston Marriott.

Collins and Summey both agreed that high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which are commonly referred to as HOV or carpool lanes, need to be looked into along with more rapid express buses.

“As we become a large metropolitan area, we’re going to have to manage how to handle the growth. I think we’re ready for an HOV lane,” Summey said.

He added that he supports a fuel tax that would keep 75% of funds in the county from which it was collected and would send the remaining 25% to rural areas to offset their smaller collection. Those funds, he said, are needed to build more lanes on interstates to connect municipalities.

Summey also said that he’s discussed transportation issues with S.C. State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome.

“The port doesn’t operate trucks at night and on the weekends,” Summey said. “If they were to go to a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation with 40% of trucks off the roads during the day and on at night, truck drivers would enjoy it more than anyone,” because it would save them time and money.

He said the change would reduce traffic jams, save fuel costs and decrease pollution and would be a “commonsense approach to dealing with traffic issues.”

Collins suggested working on short-term, sensible solutions for interstates 26 and 526 before trying to build “billion-dollar highways.”

“Somebody needs to get the major employers in the area at one table to talk about how they could stagger their workforce schedules,” Collins said. He said HOV lanes would help as well, but insisted rapid express buses are crucial to Summerville residents.

“If people knew they could get on a bus with their laptops and work on a computer or tweet or twit or do whatever they want to do, and know they would be where they had to go in 20 or 30 minutes, I think they’d ride buses. But they’ve got to be buses that are fast,” Collins said.

In Mount Pleasant, public transportation has to have business buy-in, according to Page. She said when new businesses are interested in coming to the town, officials talk to them specifically about how their employees are going to get to work.

“When we did Highway 17 and Johnnie Dodds (Boulevard), we had to include public transportation at the beginning,” Page said. “It has to be convenient and attractive with a place for people to sit at bus sheds.”

She said the town is not going to turn business down and that prosperity is a “heck of a problem to have.” Growth is something that Mount Pleasant has been planning for years through its comprehensive, strategic and capital improvement plans, she said.

“Redevelopment is very emotional,” Page said. “Quality of life is what you really have to protect.”

Quality of life and new developments on the Charleston peninsula are some of the reasons that Keane said the city may require new bars, restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations to close at midnight.

He compared the 6-square-mile Charleston peninsula to the San Francisco peninsula, which he said is 43 square miles.

“Downtown Charleston is a very small place. We only have 35,000 residents there. Yes, we have a lot of visitors,” Keane said. “But we are very concerned on the one hand that a very small place geographically and in terms of population can be very negatively impacted by rowdy behavior, and we’re seeing that.”

He said the concentration of bars and restaurants on Upper King Street and the Market area is negatively impacting the residential quality of life in some neighborhoods.

“A concentration of any single use on King Street or East Bay or Market is a negative thing. We have demand for other retail on Upper King Street, and it’s kind of being suffocated,” Keane said. “It’s not allowing other retail to come in, and we think there needs to be a greater variety of retail on every block of King Street, and that’s not able to happen right now.”

Page shook her head, indicating that Mount Pleasant is not considering a similar ordinance, while Summey said if North Charleston were to consider a proposal it would be to close all bars at midnight.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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