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The route and the road diet

Part One: The road to here

Posted: July 30, 2018 4:39 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

The sign tells the tale as these barriers block a portion of York Street where it becomes Chesnut Ferry Road Extension at Ehrenclou Drive as S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) contractors work to redesign the intersection in the background. The work is part of creating a SCDOT approved and enforceable truck route around Camden’s downtown district. When completed, the truck route will have paved the way for another project: a “road diet” of Camden’s Broad Street between DeKalb and York streets.

This week’s sudden appearance of S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) contractors starting to patch sections of Broad Street added to the already long list of ongoing road projects in Camden. SCDOT is patching and resurfacing Broad Street from Black River Road all the way north to Laurens Street at Monument Square. The project is expected to be completed in November.

In an email Friday, SCDOT’s Michael Buck said that while the new project is not directly tied to plans for a Broad Street “road diet,” it has much to do with ongoing work to create an enforceable truck route away from Camden’s downtown district.

“The roadway from south of Black River Road to Laurens Street is getting resurfaced, yes, but the key part of this project is the rehabilitation of the outer lanes between Ehrenclou Drive and York Street,” Buck said. “The outer lanes are receiving more than just resurfacing; we are improving the base (foundation) of the roadway in preparation for the current truck traffic construction.”

However, a part of SCDOT’s current work is taking place between DeKalb and York streets -- an area already designated to be remade as the Broad Street road diet, which in turn, will take place after work is completed on Camden’s approved and enforceable truck route.

A long road

How this all fits together is part of a long process that started years ago. City officials have looked for a way to get heavy truck traffic out of downtown with ideas and proposals popping up for decades. One concept, proposed some 15 years ago, would have created an actual U.S. 521 bypass from somewhere near Rembert to I-20 exit 101 and then used revamped sections of Doc Humphries, Hunting Inc. and other roads to reach over U.S. 1 at Sanders Creek Road and then reconnect to U.S. 521 North. The plan never moved past the proposal stage.

In 2008, Camden City Council hired the urban planning firm of Duany-Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) to work on a vision plan for the city. After holding a round of charettes -- a series of community input meetings -- part of DPZ’s vision included getting trucks out of the downtown area by putting Broad Street on a “diet.” While specifics have morphed during the last 10 years, the basic idea is to reduce Broad Street between DeKalb and York streets from four lanes (two lanes in each direction) to two lanes (one lane in each direction) as part of an effort to make downtown a more walkable commercial district.

To do that, however, trucks would need an alternative route because Broad Street is part of two U.S. highways: the entire roadway is part of U.S. 521 while North Broad Street is also part of U.S. 601.

In April 2009, the Santee-Lynches Council of Governments (COG) approved the findings of an environmental study connected to the west side of the proposed truck route encompassing South Broad Street, Ehrenclou Drive, Chesnut Ferry Road Extension and West DeKalb Street to Springdale Drive, back up to U.S. 521 North. At the time of this announcement, the city learned that SCDOT planned to use federal stimulus funds to improve U.S. 521 all the way from I-20 to DeKalb Street. This was, essentially, the germ for the current patching and resurfacing project on Broad Street.

Years ago, SCDOT agreed to install signs marking a truck route through Camden. That route also includes Ehrenclou Drive, Chesnut Ferry Road Extension, West DeKalb Street and Springdale Drive. It also includes York Street to Mill Street and on to U.S. 1 (East DeKalb Street).

The difference between the current route and the approved truck route is that the new one will be enforceable. Theoretically, Camden Police Department officers will be able to ticket 18-wheeler truck drivers whose routes do not include stops in Camden who fail to use the truck route to stay out of downtown.

In August 2010, city council set aside $114,000 in matching funds for a $456,000 TIGER II grant that would be used to plan the Broad Street road diet. The grant covered surveying, planning, engineering and other services to that end. At that point, then Mayor Jeffrey Graham and current Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford noted that the road diet project would have to be tied to the enforceable truck route. At the time, Graham said SCDOT would likely not even consider the road diet otherwise. The city received the grant in October 2010 and gave Camden 36 to 48 months to complete the planning and engineering phase. After that, things would have to wait until the enforceable truck route was completed.

In early 2011, council repealed its entire procurement code in favor of a new set of policies as part of the requirements for the TIGER II grant. At that time, former Camden Economic Development Director Wade Luther made a presentation about the road diet that included bike and bus pull-out lanes and multiple mid-block crosswalks with “islands” in the middle of the street with waist-high landscaping so people could wait safely for traffic to clear. Other ideas included moving trees and expanding sidewalks to make the area more walkable and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. The diet would also revamp the Broad/DeKalb intersection to allow for dedicated left-turn, through traffic and right-turn lanes. The estimated cost of the project at that time was for $3.1-$4.1 million.

Also at this time, planning was still taking place for the truck route. Then, it included a proposal to take trucks off South Broad Street to the east at Bull Street and connecting with either Mill or Fair streets before connecting to East DeKalb Street. SCDOT later discarded that concept.

On Jan. 10, 2012, the COG unanimously approved all three segments of the truck route for funding, releasing $17.2 million of a total $20 million for the project. By then, $3 million had already been spent on studies and different pieces of pre-construction work. The announcement was tied to a SCDOT press release stating the agency would study the existing, unofficial route before proposing alternatives for construction or rehabilitation.

Back in August 2011, however, SCDOT had already updated its website with information indicating the project would rehabilitate Springdale Drive and Boykin Road from Knights Hill Road to North Broad Street (U.S. 521 North); and reconfigure Old River Road and the intersection of Ehrenclou Drive and Chesnut Ferry Extension, and improve Ehrenclou Drive itself.

It then offered four alternatives for the southeast portion of the truck route:

1) Maintain the existing route from York Street to Mill Street and up to East DeKalb Street, but it was not known what improvements would be made.

2) Make improvements to York Street between Broad and Rippondon streets, and Rippondon between York and East DeKalb streets, thus pushing the existing truck route further east.

3) Move the truck route from York Street to Bull Street, extending Bull Street east and Mill Street south so they intersect, and then making improvements to sections of the streets to accommodate truck traffic.

4) Do the same as Option 3, but connecting Bull Street to Rippondon Street instead of Mill Street.

Ultimately, SCDOT chose Option 2 and is now in the process of making improvements to York and Rippondon streets as the southeastern section of the truck route.

Public speaking

DOT began seeking public input about the Broad Street road diet in March 2011 and scheduled planning charettes for that November. At those November meetings, Ernie Baughman, of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global consulting firm specializing in such projects, made sure to point out that while the road diet is dependent on completion of the truck route, the two are separate projects.

Several people at the November 2011 charettes expressed concerns about the road diet -- the effects of a proposal for angled parking, for one -- concerns that would be expressed for months, if not years to come.

SCDOT also held a public information meeting regarding the truck route project in late January 2012. As it turns out, the agency showed off options for both the truck route and the Broad Street road diet.

For the road diet, representatives from URS, the city’s engineering firm, offered several alternatives designated 1, 1A, 2 and 2A. All four options had one thing in common: redesigning the Broad/DeKalb intersection so that Broad Street’s left-turn lanes would be exactly opposite each other, allowing people to turn left from either direction at the same time. Alternatives 1, 2 and 2A all called for a reduction in parking spaces, while alternative 1A allowed for 80, an actual net gain.

That sat well with business owners at the hearing, while aspects of all the alternatives did not. Other people, including residents, complained about what they saw as possible negative impact from the changes being brought about by the truck route.

All of their concerns would not be aired, however, until a separate, full public hearing held nearly six months later, in July 2012.

Like the first meeting, SCDOT held the public hearing at Camden High School. Most of those who spoke said they were against the changes proposed for Broad Street, with some people saying the hearing was useless because local, state and federal officials had already decided to move forward.

“There isn’t much common sense,” “It’s like trying to push a square peg into a round hole,” and “I think traffic is going to back up and it will hurt business in downtown” were among the criticisms.

Residents were also among those expressing concerns about the proposed truck route. They complained that SCDOT would be purchasing slivers of dozens of properties, especially along or near Chesnut Ferry Road Extension that would, ultimately, cut their front yards in half. One Chesnut Ferry Extension resident said SCDOT should have just bought their entire property.

Other residents, living on Springdale Drive, noted that SCDOT estimated a doubling of truck traffic along that part of the route and felt the agency wasn’t proposing enough changes to Springdale to accommodate that additional volume.
The hearing also revealed more details about the truck route’s southeast quadrant: York Street would be widened -- and divided -- between Broad and Rippondon streets, and then shift the intersection of those streets several hundred yards northwest.

And one other thing was mentioned at the July 2012 hearing: Work on the truck route would begin in 2014 and last approximately two to two and a half years, hopefully ending in summer 2016. Only then would work on the Broad Street road diet begin.

It took a little longer than that to get started.

(Coming Friday -- Part Two: Bumps in the road)

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