While long-term fixes to transportation problems move through the planning process, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette said business leaders across the state need to be focused on “low-hanging fruit” and short-term fixes rather than waiting years for an infrastructure project.
“What I have in mind is I want to keep concentrating on the long-term goals, things that will take years to complete, but … there are things we can do too,” Evette said Monday at a regional transportation forum hosted by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“I always want to keep the eye on the prize, which is our long-term goals, but then figure out how, too, as businesses and community leaders and chambers and things in general, how can we come together to help short-term solutions, too.”
Evette has begun holding regional transportation forums across the state after finding success with a statewide public transportation summit last year. The biggest takeaway from the summit, she said, was that the state has a great deal of work to do to improve public transportation.
“I reached out to our chambers because I felt like they would be the good partner to keep that moving,” Evette said. “They deal with government, they deal with DOT (the Department of Transportation) and they deal with business.”
She said the regional forums are meant to see what specific problems and solutions are being implemented across the state.
“Even though South Carolina’s a small state, we have very different hurdles,” Evette said. “Charleston’s very unique to what Greenville’s dealing with, to what Columbia’s dealing with.”
Robby Robbins, chairman of the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission, said in the Lowcountry, Interstate 26 can’t be widened any further to ease congestion, which is why the region needs to look at other transportation solutions, such as Lowcountry Rapid Transit.
“It’s definitely something that we’ve got to approach from a different angle than has been previously, I think,” Robbins said. “The need is there.”
Evette said even if I-26 could be widened, it probably wouldn’t ease the Lowcountry’s transportation concerns.
“I mean, we see it in Atlanta,” she said. “People tell me, I get that all the time, ‘We need to be widening our roads. Why aren’t we widening our roads?’ And I like to say, ‘Have you ever traveled to Atlanta?’ I mean, it’s six lanes of a parking lot. I mean, I don’t know how much further they can widen them, but it will never be enough.”
Robbins said one piece of low-hanging fruit is encouraging people to share rides with co-workers or other community members.
Ron Mitchum, executive director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, pointed to the COG’s Lowcountry Go carpooling program as a potential resource and said the COG is happy to work with companies in the Charleston region to develop an internal carpooling system.
Daniel Brock, regional strategist at the COG, added that while Lowcountry Go provides the technical infrastructure, “It’s just getting people to buy into it.” Brock said that requires an “extreme behavior change … just beyond having resources in place.”
Evette suggested that employers offer incentives for carpooling or taking public transit, such as lunches or additional personal days.
Mike Seekings, chairman of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority board and Charleston councilman representing District 8, said that in the region’s preparation for Lowcountry Rapid Transit lies a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to make sure development is built around public transit.
Sharon Hollis, principal planner at the COG overseeing the rapid transit project, said she’s been working with municipalities, such as Summerville and North Charleston, to make sure they are accounting for transit as they revise their comprehensive plans.
“We’re coordinating very closely with our design team to really focus on the station areas so that we can incorporate and work cooperatively with those plans to make sure they’re keeping the same language,” Hollis said.
Evette said she plans to compile notes and ideas that she’s gathered from all of the regional transportation forums to share at another statewide public transportation forum.
“I want to make sure that … we keep making progress to make sure the ball doesn’t stop rolling, that we’re not just having these meetings and checking a box and walking out,” she said.T