SCDOT considering changes to Isle of Palms connector's vehicle and bike lanes
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SCDOT considering changes to Isle of Palms connector's vehicle and bike lanes

May 18, 2023

The state Department of Transportation restriped the Isle of Palms connector to add marked bike and pedestrian lanes in early 2021, and reduced the speed limit from 55 to 45 mph. File/Staff

When the Isle of Palms connector was built 30 years ago after Hurricane Hugo, few could have predicted the demands that decades of explosive population growth would put on the one road directly linking the island to Mount Pleasant.

All it takes is an afternoon thunderstorm during beach season to overwhelm the road with traffic as hordes of beachgoers try to flee at the same time using the one lane to Mount Pleasant.

The S.C. Department of Transportation is weighing five different options for changes to the connector, and one would add a second lane for Mount-Pleasant-bound traffic. That would mean another 1,200 cars per hour could leave the island, but safety concerns have raised questions about that concept.

"If we could do two lanes off (the island), I think that would help everyone," Isle of Palms Mayor Phillip Pounds said.

The remaining four concepts would either create a shoulder lane along the road for breakdowns or emergency vehicle access, or reinstall a center median lane that existed until the DOT made controversial changes two years ago.

"I think our council is probably split on wanting that center lane back for public safety reasons or having the second lane to get more cars off the island quicker," Pounds said. "Ultimately it will be the DOT's call."

All five concepts would consolidate the bike/pedestrian paths that are now on both sides of the connector into a single two-way path on one side, in order to free up some space on the road. Putting the bike/pedestrian path on one side could require tearing up one of the two multiuse paths that lead to the connector on the Mount Pleasant side so that people don't walk or ride to the connector and then try to cross the busy road.

"On the Mount Pleasant side, if we do any of these we're going to have to mill up (remove) the multiuse path," said Rob Perry, DOT's chief bridge engineer who presented the five concepts to Isle of Palms and Mount Pleasant officials.

Charleston Moves Executive Director Katie Zimmerman rode her bicycle home across the connector in mid-December after a presentation of the five plans on Isle of Palms. The bicycle and pedestrian advocacy nonprofit doesn't like any of the proposals, she said.

"We think that what's on the ground now is working well," she said. "It seems like an expensive step backwards to address a concern that really no longer seems to be a concern."

The concern, vigorously expressed by Isle of Palms' retired Fire Chief Ann Marie Graham in 2021, was that the DOT's decision to remove all but 4 feet of the center median lane that year and add bike/pedestrian paths along the roadsides was a threat to public safety.

The Isle of Palms connector, before it was changed in February 2021 to add bike/pedestrian lanes on both sides and eliminate the center median. Emergency vehicles respond to an accident as traffic backs up on Aug. 1, 2020. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

"As fire chief, I fought for decades to keep the center lane accessible for fire, police and EMS vehicles responding to and from the island," Graham wrote in Post and Courier commentary, just weeks after retiring.

She was not alone in that opinion. Island officials complained about the changes DOT made in February 2021, Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, got involved, and a group formed by Councilman Blair Hahn and a former Mayor Jimmy Carroll made it part of a lawsuit against the DOT.

The Palm Republic group they created, which has asked the state Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit, wants the court to order the connector "be returned to its original configuration as existed prior to the unlawful acts of the DOT." That would mean a center median lane, and no bike/pedestrian lanes, at least on the Isle of Palms side the bridge.

The connector is part of the East Coast Greenway, and DOT has been working to incorporate bike and pedestrian access in road plans. A multiuse path along the Ben Sawyer Causeway connecting Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's island was doubled in width years ago, and bike lanes were added to the main road connecting Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island during a repaving project in 2017.

Most of the connector is actually in Mount Pleasant, with the Intracoastal Waterway being the dividing line.

Mount Pleasant Councilman Howard Chapman was the city of Charleston's transportation director when the connector was built. He said the DOT has presented several good options for the road.

"I like the two lanes leaving Isle of Palms, but it has a drawback, and that is the emergency vehicle access," he said. "I think that going back to the wider center lane, with bike and pedestrian on one side, will probably be the answer."

One of the five concepts the S.C. Department of Transportation is considering for the Isle of Palms connector. Provided

Police and fire officials on Isle of Palms are also concerned about emergency vehicle access if a second lane off the island is added. Meanwhile, according to the police and fire chiefs, and DOT, accidents have declined since the speed limit was lowered — most are rear-end collisions with no injuries — and emergency vehicle response times haven't changed.

A monthlong online comment period began Jan. 13 to gauge public opinion on the five concepts DOT has offered. The online survey is at

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or [email protected]

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