Proposed changes to the IOP Connector, experts and users weigh in on options

The SCDOT has proposed five potential new lane designs for the Isle of Palms Connector bridge, and they’re looking for input from residents.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 4:04 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2023 at 9:11 PM EST
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Transportation has proposed five potential new lane designs for the Isle of Palms Connector bridge, and they’re looking for input from residents.

The current connector features one lane of traffic each way, bike and walking lanes on each side in a single direction, and a small, paved median. The new designs vary from adding a traffic lane leaving the island, to widening the paved median, to combining the bike and walking lanes into one wide multi-use path. You can see a visual representation of the five designs with detailed explanations, here.

Engineers with the department presented the designs to the City of Isle of Palms and the Town of Mount Pleasant before the public comment period. At the Isle of Palms meeting, transportation officials explained the designs don’t add a lot of capacity for vehicles but rearrange the shoulder and paved median options.

The bike and pedestrian lanes were added to the IOP Connector two years ago. The Department of Transportation also lowered the speed limit from 55 to 45 mph on the bridge.

Executive Director of Charleston Moves Katie Zimmerman advocates for safe and efficient alternative travel lanes. She says the best configuration is what is currently in place.

“It’s working really, really well as far as balancing safety of motorist’s, safety of bike/ped and emergency access. So, from our perspective, there’s really not a need to - if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s working well for everybody,” Zimmerman says.

During the South Carolina Department of Transportation presentation to Isle of Palms City Council, Police Chief Kevin Cornett confirmed there has not been a single car and pedestrian accident reported since adding the lanes, despite him seeing a few close calls himself.

At the meeting, Fire Chief Craig Oliverius also said there have been no changes in emergency response times after adding the bike and walking lanes to the bridge.

“We now have that data to understand that things are working well. Concerns before the restriping have not come to fruition. Or have not been borne out, which is wonderful. That’s a relief,” Zimmerman says.

She fears moving all the walkers and bikers, or vulnerable road users, into one multi-use path will be more dangerous for them.

“The current configuration is great because it splits people up by direction. It gives a buffer and it gives people enough safe space to actually enjoy going over the connector while also providing space for motorists if they need to slowly pull to the right in the case of an emergency required by law,” Zimmerman says.

Chief Cornett says there is nothing inherently unsafe about the current lanes on the connector, but sees this reassessment as an opportunity to look for improvement. He says the biggest aspect he looks at as an emergency responder are the medians and buffer zones. Configuration three stuck out to him because of the wide median.

“The reason we like that median is because it gives the ability if there’s a collision, we can move vehicles into that median or direct traffic around that collision so that we’re not clogging up the entire lane of travel and keeping people from leaving or coming on the island. But it also gives that that extra room for vehicles to be able to pull to the side when emergency vehicles are coming through,” Cornett explains.

Cornett says his department already works well with the connector traffic and would be able to work with any of the changes. He reminds people to drive carefully on the bridge, watching for traffic stacked up at the light as you enter the island. He also askes people to keep moving in their cars and never stop, even though the view can be beautiful and you’ll want to stop and look.

“We do have so many people that come across that bridge, whether they’re work here, they live here they play here, or they’re just coming to be part of the business or enjoy the beautiful scenery on the beach. Regardless, we want your opinion,” Cornett says.

The public comment period began on Jan. 13 and will last 30 days. After that, South Carolina Department of Transportation engineers plan to assess the input and return to Mount Pleasant and Isle of Palms councils to make presentations and recommendations.

To participate in the survey, click here.