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County Council, May 3

Trying to breathe life into the Pitchfork projects
Real hurdles remain
Warwick Jones

We have often wondered over the past few years why Johns Islanders never rioted over their traffic problems. The completion of I-526 was expected by many to be the solution. But this plan was nixed near 10 years ago and the “pitchfork” solution agreed upon. And what has happened since? Possibly a lot in terms of planning and permitting but no progress. And in terms of construction, effectively nothing. Meanwhile, traffic congestion worsens and the patience of commuters increasingly tested.

So is some progress is sight? It seems so from the agenda of last night’s Finance Committee meeting. We could not attend the meeting but viewed the video on the County web site. There was little discussion of the issue before the Committee broke for an Executive Session. It seemed that there was no discussion on the return of members and no vote taken. We say “seemed” because the video was without sound after the return from the executive session. Members waited for the return of Council members Summey and Pryor, but in vain, and the actions of the present members suggested an adjournment.

The 3 items to be voted or discussed were:

    Approve the revised budget of $4.2 million to construct the Northern Pitchfork. Should the City of Charleston receive approval from SC DOT for the proposed roundabout, the estimated $375,000 for partial funding would come from the $4.2 million. Construction of the roundabout would eliminate the costs associated with the required lane extension.

    Identify a funding source for the Southern Pitchfork design/ construction estimated at $7.5 million.

    Funds are available for the Northern Pitchfork in the Roads Program in the First Transportation Sales Tax.

The above looks simple but does nothing to reveal the complexity of the issues – and boiled down, it is the problem of meeting requirements of the SCDOT and the Army Corp of Engineers. And these lingering problems late last month brought about a meeting of the City of Charleston, the County, property owners along the pitchfork paths, and members of the Johns Island Community Association. It seem the meeting catalyzed a greater effort to seek resolution of the problems that stood in the way of the projects.

The immediate problem with the Northern Pitchfork was the SCDOT requirement that a lane should be added to River Road to tie into a City development. The new lane and the removal of 12 grand trees would cost an estimated $375,000 and was necessary to eliminate traffic congestion likely from a residential development.

The City has proposed the construction of a roundabout at Stardust Way which would eliminate the need for the new lane on River Road and allow the removal of fewer grand trees. The construction of the roundabout also needs the agreement of a developer who owns the property. And assuming there is an agreement, it still needs approval by the SCDOT.

The City has said that if the SCDOT rejects the roundabout proposal, it is willing to support the new lane on River Road and the removal of the grand trees. It also hopes the County will pay for the roundabout.

The Southern Pitchfork construction has been held up by concerns over wetlands. It is the opinion of staff that present alignment of the Pitchfork will never be permitted and that the alignment needs to be changed. The County has met with the land owner and it seems some agreement has been reached but…….

    will require that the design prohibit left hand turns to Maybank Highway from the Southern Pitchfork.
    will require a two way left turn lane median between Fenwick Hall Allee and the Southern Pitchfork.
    will not allow signalization at both Fenwick Hall Allle and the Southern Pitchfork.

The property owner stated that if Council does not approve the project moving forward by May 15, he is no longer willing to dedicate the right-of-way (ROW). The ROW is estimated to cost $800,000
Press Download file to see the proposed new alignment of the Southern Pitchfork.

Presumably the issues will be discussed at the Tuesday night Council meeting. We’d expect that Council will embrace the opportunity to move forward. After all, it has been near 10 years since the conception of the projects, and traffic conditions are presently chronic.