CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As Charleston grows, county engineers say traffic is only going to get worsea and they’re working now on a plan for that future congestion.
More than 50,000 cars drive across the Ashley River bridges every day between downtown Charleston and West Ashley.
The US 17 Corridor Congestion Improvement Study covers US 17 from Septima Clark Pkwy at the I-26 connection to the notoriously messy convergence of Savannah Hwy, St Andrews Blvd. and Folly Rd. in Avondale.
"We use what we call big data which is really this," said Richard Turner, pulling out his cell phone.
Turner is Charleston County's Deputy Director of Public Works.
He says the study has involved taking traffic counts of cars, bikes and pedestrians and analyzing travel data through cellular location services.
"With those location services, traffic engineers are able to use utilize some of that data to understand where people are going."
And, he said, how long it takes them.
One surprise to him, he said, was that only 20% of people are going from West Ashley all the way to I-26.
"So it really is a lot of destination driving - there's not much passing through," Turner said.
County Council asked the Department to study congestion and come up with ideas.
They had a $2 million budget. Turner said they are currently under budget at $1.7 million.
This traffic study was funded by the county's second half-cent sales tax program in 2016.
"We've gotten pretty creative. And for a bunch of engineers to get creative isn't always the easiest thing to do!"
He says they don't think widening the roads and adding lanes is the best solution for long-term impact.
One key will be getting more people into fewer vehicles, like a bus.
"We're discussing- are there opportunities for such things as carpooling and van pooling? Whatimprovements could be done in neighborhoods to encourage folks to use an alternative mode of transportation? We gotta figure out how to get more folks or a better flow of traffic through there."
The website for this project also suggests strategies such as employer-based incentives, congestion pricing, park and ride development. It also references exploring improved traffic operations like signing, pavement, lighting and express lanes.
The study is wrapping up. This quarter, they'll present all of their ideas to the public for feedback to eventually create a final plan.
Turner says many short-term improvements (which he defined as over the next five years) can likely be funded with the current budget.
But, he pointed out, the SCDOT, County and City will have to make major investments to manage long-term traffic here 30 years down the road.