In the movies, when aliens invade Earth, they generally say they come as friends and intend to do no harm; most of the time, they are lying. The invasion underway along Johnnie Dodds Boulevard is an exception to the rule. When the hundreds of orange cones and barrels have completed their mission and returned home, wherever that is, Mount Pleasant will be left with only the magnanimous results of their visit.
The Johnnie Dodds Boulevard project consists of widening three miles – from the Arthur J. Ravenel Jr. Bridge to the Interstate 526 interchange – to three lanes from two in each direction. Improvements to the two frontage roads and some side streets along this stretch of U.S. Highway 17 are included in the plan.
New curbs and gutters are the beginning of the visual improvements; both are being installed along the highway and the two frontage roads. While they’ll look nicer than the current shoulder and median edges, they also will improve safety and drainage, alleviating the deep puddles that now appear during heavy rains.
The median between the northbound and southbound lanes will be landscaped with plants, hedges and trees, and street lighting there will be enhanced. The green spaces between the highway and the frontage roads also will have new grass, plants and trees.
The major intersections with Johnnie Dodds Boulevard are being improved with upgraded traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks at Magrath Darby Boulevard, Mathis Ferry Road/Houston Northcutt Boulevard, Shelmore Boulevard and Anna Knapp Boulevard. Dedicated turn lanes are being installed in some locations where they don’t currently exist, with the option of adding a second lane off Johnnie Dodds onto Anna Knapp and Shelmore if they are needed in the future.
The frontage roads on both sides of the highway are being widened, and, along with the current one-lane in each direction for automobiles, marked bicycle lanes and sidewalks are planned. New traffic lights are being installed where East Frontage Road intersects with Houston Northcutt Boulevard. Along West Frontage Road, intersections at Mathis Ferry, Anna Knapp and Bowman are getting new traffic signals.
In addition to making it safer to cross over and make left turns at these Frontage Road intersections, the traffic signals’ timing will be coordinated with those on Johnnie Dodds to help traffic flow more smoothly.
The biggest change, both visually and in project scope, is the addition of a bridge. Johnnie Dodds Boulevard is being elevated above Bowman Road, alleviating backups on both roads during heavy travel times. If you think the view of the Ravenel is dramatic now, imagine what it will look like from the new overpass.
Bowman Road is being widened to five lanes to where it crosses Shem Creek, and a new bridge will be constructed over the creek, with sidewalks and drainage improvements. On the west side of Johnnie Dodds, Bowman is being widened, and an improved intersection will be added at Hospital Drive. On both sides, traffic lights will be installed where the new offramps from Johnnie Dodds connect to Bowman.
It all sounds very complicated, but it’s worth the temporary inconvenience. With today’s configuration, one car turning left onto Johnnie Dodds Boulevard from Bowman Road during rush hour can trigger a light change that backs up traffic on the main thoroughfare for 50 or more other vehicles.
While rumors that you’ll be able to travel along Johnnie Dodds from the Ravenel to I-526 without stopping at a single light are false, congestion on the bridge will be lessened. The standstill at Bowman Road will be gone. Businesses along the frontage roads will benefit from increased foot traffic with the addition of sidewalks and landscaping. And we’ll all enjoy the improved view of the thoroughfare from our new flyway 30-feet above Bowman.
Mount Pleasant residents who would like to know more about the project, view a model of the Bowman overpass or see aerial photographs of the design plans for the entire U.S. Highway 17 expansion are welcome at the project information office at 1603 N. Highway 17, at the corner of Hungryneck Boulevard. Ed Barbee, Mount Pleasant’s road construction information officer for the project, is available to answer questions and enjoys showing the plans to those interested in seeing them.
“We’re really fortunate with the coordination going on for this project between the town, county, state and federal government, as well as all of the utilities involved,” said Barbee, explaining that everyone is conscious of the concerns of the driving public and business owners in the area.
The contractors and workers are aware of the issues and have been very accommodating. For example, they’ve walked the easement with a homeowner who was concerned about how the changes would affect his backyard, replaced a palmetto tree when a construction vehicle accidentally backed into it and stood in waist-high, mucky water to unclog a storm water drain during a downpour in early July.
Barbee explained how most of the construction work is being conducted at night, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. And while the noise is unavoidable for some nearby homeowners, efforts are being made to cause as little inconvenience as possible. As another widening project begins further down U.S. Highway 17 in more-densely-populated residential areas, new sound walls will help alleviate the noise from the construction and from the traffic once the project is complete.
In the meantime, be patient with the orange barrels and the men and women working on the other side of them. They are here to do a job for us. By spring 2013, they’ll be moving on to another sorely-needed roadway construction site. And we’ll be left with a wider, more efficient and, yes, prettier, Johnnie Dodds Boulevard through Mount Pleasant.
For more information, visit www.ccroadwise.org/johnnie_dodds