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  • Writer's pictureFrank Schiavo

Charleston's traffic troubles grow

by Frank Schiavo

Lori McKeon makes her commute from Summerville to Charleston along I-26 every day, which in recent years has been a giant parking lot during rush hour.

What should take her 30 minutes is often twice that.

"Sometimes it can be over an hour," said the teacher, who has to come downtown every weekday. "If there is an accident on the wrong road, it can make my commute twice as long."

Charleston locals are growing more concerned with daily traffic as well, and there is no resolution in sight. 

In the last five years, the population of Charleston-North Charleston has grown from 693,000 to 756,000, bringing more traffic but no new routes to ease the congestion.

Johns Island resident Hunter Hicks has watched the problem get worse.

“I have lived here for about seven years, and there are much more people than there used to be," he said. "And the traffic isn't getting any better.”

Lucky for Hicks, there is a $30 million John’s Island traffic improvement plan scheduled for upcoming years.

However, the population density increase doesn’t look like it's slowing down.

According to a study, the population of Charleston County has risen over 40% since the late 1990s and now houses almost a million people.

As traffic everywhere gets worse, residents are looking for someone to blame for their lengthy commutes.  

“If there is an accident on the wrong road, it can make my commute twice as long,” Hicks said.

This is becoming unacceptable and residents are looking for a solution.

Deputy Director of the City of Charleston Department of Traffic and Transportation Michael Mathis offered some hope with planned projects in the near future. 

“The Mark Clark Extension is designed to greatly improve the traffic between James Island, Johns Island, and West Ashley,” he said. “It is still in its early stages, but this will be a new major road connecting the islands."

Downtown citizens are in a different situation, however, as there are no major traffic plans for the near future - at least when it comes to personal car use. 

Mathis said a plan proposed in 2020 and implemented late 2021 has improved public transportation, walkways and bikeways throughout the city. The plan includes new walkways, more bike lanes, and additional stop times for certain buses.

He hopes this will encourage fewer drivers.  

"Hopefully enticing residents to leave their cars at home,” said Mathis.  “I think the situation downtown will stay the same. Commuter traffic shouldn’t worsen either.”

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