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Column: Under the roadbed

Posted: August 2, 2018 3:05 p.m.
Updated: August 3, 2018 1:00 a.m.

About 15 years ago, former Camden City Councilman Nick Lampshire asked me to meet him in the KFC parking lot on East DeKalb Street. It was a little of an unusual request -- he usually dropped into our offices on the other side of downtown when he wanted to talk about something.

At the time, Lampshire was the city’s representative to the Santee-Lynches Council of Governments and he had, literally, gotten back from a meeting with them in Sumter. When I arrived at KFC, he was obviously excited about something -- probably the overly large, rolled up piece of paper in one of his hands.

It turned out to be a plan to divert heavy truck traffic off U.S. 521 near Rembert onto a proposed new by-pass to meet up with I-20 Exit 101 at Doc Humphries Road. The proposal would then have refurbished Doc Humphries, Hunting Inc. and other roads to reach U.S. 1 northeast of Camden and then Sanders Creek Road to connect back up with U.S. 521 north of the city.

It was a grand idea in that it would have definitely gotten 18-wheelers blazing through the heart of downtown Camden out of the area and, perhaps, opened up portions of east Camden for further residential, commercial, and even industrial development.

The reality, of course, was that securing easements and rights-of-way through the southeast part of the county was almost impossible. Parts of Mulberry -- a literal national treasure -- sat along the proposed by-pass, too.

Fast forward to a week ago when we published a picture of S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) contractors beginning a patching and resurfacing project on Broad Street. Editor Jim Tatum and I looked at each other and realized that part of that work was taking place where -- someday -- the Broad Street road diet was supposed to happen.

That prompted me to come up with the idea for “The route and the road diet” series we continue today and wrap-up on Tuesday.

I decided the first two parts had to be a deep dive into the history of where this all started and how we got to where we are today, with a smattering of new information about why certain things happened the way they have.

One of my philosophies is that we can’t know where we’re going without knowing where we’ve been. The story of creating a SCDOT-approved and enforceable truck route in order to offer an alternative for heavy truck drivers to use instead of a slimmer Broad Street between DeKalb and York streets is one that has taken years to tell.

That’s why I decided Tuesday’s opener, “The road to here,” and today’s “Bumps in the road” were important to write. I needed to, as best I could, condense a decade of history into something that would help readers understand how things got to the point they’re at: road blocks everywhere for months -- years -- at a time.

Another of my philosophies, specific to journalism, is to craft stories based on the premise that there is at least one person out there who has absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. It’s not about condescendingly dumbing down a story; it’s intelligently (I hope) presenting enough background so that when they get to what’s happening now, that person has gained an understanding of the issues involved.

That’s why the beginning of today’s story echoes the end of Tuesday’s story, and why I’m likely to use the same technique this coming Tuesday for the closing chapter.

At the same time, there was so much history regarding the truck route and road diet, that I felt a deep dive was necessary. I wanted to make sure everyone, new and long-time readers alike, could walk away from this series with as much knowledge about the situation as I could provide.

So, where are we?

We have all those aforementioned roadblocks, detours and, yes, headaches to deal with and, unfortunately, more to come.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. The truck route actually is coming along, with work restarting again on Segment 1, up on Boykin Road. Segments 2 and 3 (at Camden High School and the York/Rippondon intersection, respectively) seem to be on track for completion soon.

There there’s the road diet.

This coming Tuesday’s chapter is called “The road from here,” and takes a closer look at where things stand and what we can expect going forward. That includes the road diet, which -- while we pretty much know how it should turn out -- remains something of a mystery in terms of when, or even if, that project will begin.

When it’s all done -- all of it -- we have a good chance of hearing fewer 18-wheelers rumbling by on Broad Street, having a better flow of traffic despite losing a lane in either direction, and a more walkable, even more attractive downtown shopping district than we already have.

If we don’t, then more than a decade of headaches -- and the ones to come -- will have been for nothing.

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