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Sunday, January 22, 2006

1 roadway, 2 plans on best way to alter it

Johnnie Dodds to get upgrade



MOUNT PLEASANT - More than $500,000 in public and private money has been spent in the past year to decide how Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, the town's main thoroughfare, should be altered to handle growing traffic needs.

The dollar amount is indicative of the significance of the decision, but the money and the studies have done little to bring two conflicting visions for Johnnie Dodds toward common ground.

The plans, one paid for by the town, the other by a group of residents and business owners, still pit roundabouts along an urban boulevard against a widened, six-lane highway with two elevated overpasses.

Now, with town residents again set to weigh in on the option they prefer, residents and council members continue to question how two consultants can use the same traffic and growth numbers and come up with two different results.

The answer comes down to two conflicting visions for the highway (U.S. 17). The town's consultants designed a road to move vehicles more quickly from the base of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge on out of town. The private consultant, hired by the East Cooper Planning Council, focused on creating an urban center.

It designed a road not to provide quicker vehicular mobility, but to foster economic development and pedestrian movement.

"The older style, which the city is going with, is to analyze the motor vehicles and to build a road accordingly," said Rick Hall, a transportation engineer with Hall Planning & Engineering Inc."The new style, which we are going with, is to determine what kind of city you'd like to have and build a road that fits that vision."

Consequently, the town's consultants, Day Wilburn Associates, found that roundabouts at each of the five intersections from the bridge to Bowman Road would severely clog traffic. They point to growth patterns north of S.C. Highway 41, areas still ripe for development, as reasons the traffic volume will jump from 50,000 to 70,000 vehicles a day by 2030.

"We have full confidence in our report," said Brad Morrison, project manager for the Johnnie Dodds Mobility Study and the town's transportation engineer. "We did refine the employment data, the numbers the other consultant said were incorrect. But we know what's coming in terms of development more than anyone else. It's our town."

Morrison also points to the fact that 70 percent of the traffic does not originate in, and is not destined for, locations along the Johnnie Dodds corridor. Roundabouts, he said, would just slow down this traffic, causing nearby businesses to suffer.

"If I put myself in their shoes and saw the traffic backups roundabouts would cause, I would be concerned," Morrison said. "I guess they just don't believe us."

The private consultants and businesses owners admit they don't believe the town's numbers or the ensuing traffic snarls predicted if roundabouts, instead of overpasses, are built.

"We don't believe traffic will double and reach the levels they are projecting in the next 25 years," Hall said. Consequently, Hall, along with consultants with Dover Kohl, the private firm hired by the East Cooper Planning Council, focused on turning Johnnie Dodds into an urban center.

Such a plan, they said, would transform Johnnie Dodds into a place people would go to, not continue to drive through and away from.

They also point to the fact that roundabouts are capable of handling high traffic volumes in other cities around the country.

For example, a three-lane roundabout opened last year in Detroit along Michigan Highway 53. Rob Morosi, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Transportation, said the roundabout carries 71,000 vehicles a day. It is designed to handle 100,000 vehicles a day by 2015.

Hall said because the town's study shows traffic backing up inside the roundabouts once traffic volumes reach 70,000, that proves that the town's consultants "stopped designing too quickly."

If traffic volumes ever reach those numbers, Hall said signals can be added, and if all else fails viaducts can be built over the roundabouts.

Marshall Simon, the owner of Gwynn's of Mount Pleasant, also points to the more appealing appearance of the roundabouts.

"I haven't talked to anyone who's said, 'Hey, I can't wait to see those overpasses,'" Simon said.

But the decision is not a popularity contest. What a majority of town taxpayers want might not matter.

"The solutions (the town came up with) do conflict with what a majority of the community seems to want," said Mac Burdette, the town's administrator. "The fact remains that U.S. 17 is a major, federal, north-south corridor. Nothing is going to change that, and the town staff and town consultants already have determined how to solve the mobility issues through 2030."

Their solution is widening Johnnie Dodds and building overpasses.

Burdette said town officials still will listen to public comments at two hearings set for mid-February. Whichever plan is approved by the town will have to be approved by Charleston County and the state Department of Transportation.

The plans

Here's what is being proposed for Johnnie Dodds Boulevard

Plan proposed by Day Wilburn Associates, the town consultants:

--Six-lane Johnnie Dodds from base of Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Bowman Road.

--Construct "tight urban diamond interchanges," or overpasses, at Houston Northcutt Boulevard and Bowman Road.

--Intersection of Johnnie Dodds and McGrath Darby boulevards would become a right-in, right-out intersection. Left turns and continuous forward movement across McGrath Darby would not be permitted.

--Shelmore Boulevard, Dragoon Drive and Anna Knapp Boulevard would become "continuous flow intersections," meaning an additional light would be installed away from the signalized intersection to allow motorists turning left to line up away from the rest of traffic.

--Frontage roads on either side of Johnnie Dodds could be relocated, and roundabouts and traffic signals are proposed at most intersections.

--Plan includes space for sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

Plan proposed by Dover Kohl, firm hired by the East Cooper Planning Council:

--Six-lane Johnnie Dodds Boulevard.

--Construct multi-lane roundabouts at McGrath Darby, Houston Northcutt, Shelmore and Anna Knapp boulevards and Bowman Road.

--If future traffic volumes continue to increase, signalize the roundabouts or build elevated viaducts over the roundabouts.

--Plan includes space for sidewalks and bicycle lanes.Bottom of Form 1



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