Years of outreach, advocacy and hard work by Charleston, South Carolina, bicycle-pedestrian advocates and the East Coast Greenway Alliance paid off with the November 6, 2019 announcement that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the city an $18.1 million BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant to add a stand-alone bicycle and pedestrian bridge crossing the Ashley River.
The 0.4-mile bridge will become a visually stunning feature of the East Coast Greenway while finally offering cyclists and walkers a safe way to travel between downtown Charleston and residential communities across the river in West Ashley. Currently, crossing from West Ashley into the city by bike or on foot requires sharing a lane with traffic or using a narrow, raised sidewalk.
“Today is a transformative day for the City of Charleston. The $18.1 million BUILD grant for the Ashley River bike-pedestrian bridge will transform one of the most dangerous bridge crossings of the entire 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway into a highlight of our route that will attract visitors from all over the country,” says East Coast Greenway Alliance Executive Director Dennis Markatos-Soriano.
Local Greenway partners including the advocacy group Charleston Moves and City of Charleston Transportation Director Keith Benjamin have worked on the project for years, including submitting two earlier BUILD grant applications.
“A safe, connected and equitable crossing for all modes between West Ashley and the peninsula, a serious issue that the community has agonized over and fought to remedy for nearly a century, is finally funded,” says Charleston Moves Executive Director Katie Zimmerman. “So many of us have invested blood, sweat and tears to get this crossing and its connections to downtown and the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway. Charleston Moves stands ready to continue on with advocacy and assistance until the bicycle and pedestrian bridge and connecting intersections are constructed.”
In video: Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg thanks Deputy Director Niles Barnes and the East Coast Greenway Alliance during a Nov. 7, 2019 press conference on the BUILD award
Speaking alongside Zimmerman, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and others at a November 7 press conference in Charleston, Benjamin thanked all those who supported this project from the start – from his co-workers in Charleston, congressional staffers in Washington and colleagues in New York City and Vancouver, who offered advice.
Benjamin offered a special thanks to local grassroots supporters who contacted elected officials: “Those letters mattered so much. It made a difference. It showed that we’re in unity about this project … In just a few years, your life will be much safer being able to cross the Ashley River.”
“When built, this crossing will help complete a 12-mile stretch of dedicated bicycle and pedestrian pathway that will strengthen the connectivity of our neighborhoods and job centers, support our ongoing West Ashley Revitalization and improve the quality of life for our citizens,” says Teckenburg.
Over the past decade, the East Coast Greenway Alliance has supported Charleston’s efforts to secure needed federal funding for this project. In September 2018, Markatos-Soriano and Deputy Director Niles Barnes traveled to Washington, D.C., for three days of meetings, capping the Alliance’s efforts to secure BUILD grant investments from the U.S. Department of Transportation for Greenway projects from Massachusetts to Florida.
A story in perseverance, these efforts helped pave the way for success in 2019. The $18.1 million BUILD grant is the second-largest ever awarded to a project along the East Coast Greenway, trailing only a $23 million grant for greater Philadelphia’s model trail system, now a jewel of the 3,000-mile route.
“This smart infrastructure investment is a major breakthrough for a healthy and sustainable future for the region. We have seen how this kind of federal support can transform a city as it has with the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia, and we are thrilled for the people of South Carolina to see funding awarded,” says Markatos-Soriano.
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