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Widening debate runs through West Ashley

Teri Errico Griffis Print Story
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Charleston Councilman Kevin Shealy addresses community members at a March 21 public hearing on the Glenn McConnell Parkway widening project. (Photos/Teri Errico Griffis)

With the Charleston population growing more than 18% since 2010, Glenn McConnell Parkway now has more volume than the roadway is able to handle. The situation will only get worse through 2040, according to an assessment by Charleston County. 

In the next two years, the county will be addressing the issue by widening the four-lane road to six lanes, adding seven bus stops, improving turn lanes and landscaping, adding a new stoplight, and building a shared pedestrian and bike path.  

The improvements will span 2.1 miles from Bees Ferry Road through Magwood Drive — the busy corner between Home Depot and Chick-fil-A. Charleston County officials said the construction will take two years, with an expected completion of March 2024. 

Herbert Nimz, project manager with Charleston County, and David Wertz, construction engineering and inspection project manager for Charleston County’s project consultant, Infrastructure Consulting & Engineering, led a March 21 public hearing at the Bees Ferry West Ashley Library to update the public about the Glenn McConnell Widening Project. Council members, including District 2 Councilman Kevin Shealy, District 6 Councilman Kylon Middleton and District 7 Councilman Brantley Moody, also attended the meeting.  

As a line of community members snaked through the library waiting to sign in and fill nearly every seat before the meeting began, several attendees voiced their frustrations. The biggest concern seemed to be over noise that a six-lane road might cause. 

Before Nimz was halfway through his presentation, the group was already firing off questions and expressing concerns about noise, flooding mitigation in communities, lack of sidewalks for the proposed bus paths and how the new Spinx gas station at the corner of Wildcat Boulevard and Glenn McConnell Parkway will impact traffic into West Ashley High School

Officials first identified that Glenn McConnell Parkway was problematic in the 2016 half-cent sales tax referendum. Two years later, the first public meeting was held, asking for input on future plans. In January 2020, officials held a second meeting at West Ashley High School and two months later published a final report. 

The Glenn McConnell Widening Project received project permits in 2021, and a construction contract was awarded earlier this year. 

Chris Ebel, a home appraiser and West Ashley resident, worries officials are not widening the parkway to alleviate traffic, but to add even more cars to the road. 

Since the 2020 meeting, Lennar’s Grand Bees has developed three phases of new residential homes on Bees Ferry Road, a Harris Teeter has opened down the street, and a new apartment complex is almost ready to open. 

“Everybody’s doing the same thing. Let’s just get more cars, build 300 more apartments, and now we’re going to need eight lanes,” she said. “By then, this highway’s going to be in everybody’s living room.” 

Nimz said many of the thousands of new homes built in the last two years should have been accounted for in the design process when the projects were under development. 

“We have to do our best to assume growth ... especially because we live in an area that people want to live in, and that number’s pretty high,” Nimz said. 

He added that while he doesn’t live in West Ashley and can’t speak for those who do, “there’s a limit to what you can do as far as preventing future development. That’s not what this (meeting) is about.” 

A concern repeated throughout the meeting was the sound disruption caused by the current four-lane road and what that would evolve into with the addition of two more lanes and seven bus stops. 

Several attendees, including Ebel, said that they can hear cars zipping down Glen McConnell Parkways as late as 11 p.m.  

In addition to suggesting a lower enforced speed limit — the limit will be reduced during construction, then returned to 55 mph after completion — residents at the meeting requested a sound barrier. 

A sound study was performed in 2019, Nimz said, but results did not determine the necessity for a wall. According to the Glenn McConnell Parkway Highway Traffic Noise Technical Memorandum published in April 2020, only one of the four communities studied met the requirements for a sound barrier; however, aerial power lines permanently prevent a structure from being erected along that portion of the corridor. 

Other community members requested another study to be done, one individual asking if her homeowners’ associations could perform another study out of pocket. Nimz and Wertz said industry standards were followed to collect the data. 

To accommodate expansion, construction will push outward to create a third westbound lane, while eastbound, construction will push inside toward the grass median.  

Throughout the 2.1-mile plan, four bus stops with pullover lanes will be added westbound, with three added eastbound. Each bus stop will include a shelter, bench, trash receptacle and bicycle rack. 

On the east side of the parkway, a multi-use path between 8 and 12 feet wide will run from Bees Ferry Road to Glenn McConnell Parkway. At its closest point, the path will be a few feet off the main road. At its furthest, the path will have a 10-foot buffer between traffic with Jersey barriers in some areas. In others, the path will be separated from the main road by existing ditches. 

The westbound side will have short walkways from the bus stops back into the nearest community, but officials were stumped when asked if further sidewalks would be added westbound to connect stops to other communities or if crosswalks would be added to allow bus travelers to cross Glenn McConnell Parkway and connect to transportation. 

Nimz said planners did their best to make connections to existing facilities. For the bus stop at Goodwill Way, he said, “You may have to travel that backroad and then walk up to Mary Ader.”  

Down the road at the corner of Glenn McConnell Parkway and William E. Murray Boulevard, a four-building, 341-unit apartment complex has been proposed adjacent to West Ashley High School. A new Spinx gas station is already under construction at the corner of Wildcat Boulevard and the parkway.  

Nimz said the Spinx will have right-in, right-out entrances and exits, meaning traffic leaving on the Wildcat Boulevard side would only have the option to turn right, pull a U-turn or circle around the school, and then come back out to Glenn McConnell Parkway. 

West Ashley resident Craig Peterkin worried how that will affect traffic, especially during school drop-off and pickup, and during rush hour. 

“When those plans were originally made, was consideration given for the new 300-unit complex and the gas station going in on that corner?” Peterkin said.  

Nimz said the Spinx plans would have been accounted for as he doesn’t believe the S.C. Department of Transportation would bring in a development that would negatively affect the designs and “throw off the whole project.” 

“In coordination with the DOT, they would have gotten with us in plan-development,” Nimz said. “This project has been in design since 2018, so we’ve had ongoing conversations with the DOT. Anything that comes after that, they would have to work with DOT to get approval for access.” 

Eight intersections will be improved in the next two years, including the intersection of Bees Ferry Road and Glenn McConnell Parkway. Plans there call for signal modifications, an additional left turn lane, sidewalk connection and improvements, new shared-use path, enhanced landscaping. 

Bees Ferry Road will not incur any enhancements beyond the intersection once traffic flows onto the road. Nimz also clarified there will not be improvements to the right turn lane onto Glenn McConnell Parkway.  

The parkway will be completely paved by the end of the project.  

Phase 1 of 3 on the construction timeline includes shoulder work from Bees Ferry Road to Magwood Drive, prep work for the installation of an additional westbound travel lane and minor drainage modifications. 

Any work requiring lane closures will be done at night during off-peak hours. 

“We plan to give quarterly updates about status of the project to be shared with HOA presidents in the area and dispersed to residents, accordingly,” he said.

Reach Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.

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