HWY 41 Alternative Update #2

Dear Dunes West Resident,

As you’ve probably heard by now, this past Thursday, Charleston County abandoned their previous decision for expanding Route 41 using Alternative 1—which is basically an expansion of the current Route 41, in preference for a new option (we’re calling, Alternative “7B”) which has had no community feedback and which would be detrimental to Dunes West. After three and a half years of study, feedback, analysis and millions of taxpayer dollars, they simply chose to do something different than what their analysis had led them to.

As a board, we expected there would be revisions to Alternative 1. However, we did not anticipate that they’d announce a completely new, never-before-seen alternative or introduce significant changes to an alternative that had already been dismissed (Alternative 7A).

We found this especially surprising because the rationale they had previously used for selecting Alternative 1 over Alternative 7A was sound, thorough and compelling in virtually every measurable category of the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) analysis.  

In case you haven’t been following this discussion, Alternative 7A would have replaced Dunes West Boulevard and Park West Boulevard up to the Bessemer Circle with a 45 mph highway which would have created a number of major issues (i.e., would have taken people off the current Route 41, and rerouted them through our communities, increased flooding risks, run adjacent to Kiln Court ungating Dunes West, etc). Additionally, it would have cut right through the northern edge of Laurel Hill County Park.

The county’s new revised plan (which we call Alternative 7B) changes that by widening the existing Dunes West Boulevard and Park West Boulevard to four lanes plus a median, but while staying within the existing right of way for the most part and reducing the speed limit to 35 mph (which we think will be hard to maintain).  It still has the same impact on Laurel Hill County Park.

While Alternative “7B” is a minor improvement over Alternative 7A, it’s still a major problem for Dunes West and for our community. Here’s the thing – the right of way for Dunes West Boulevard and Park West Boulevard was originally established to accommodate 4 lanes plus a median and sidewalks.  We accept that Dunes West Boulevard will be widened within its existing right of way, even now.  What we don’t accept is it being widened instead of all of the existing Highway 41 being widened to accommodate four lanes of travel.  It will still become a bypass for the majority of Highway 41 traffic if Highway 41 has only two travel lanes between Dunes West Boulevard and Joe Rouse Road.  We can provide you with more details if you’d like, but here are some of the main issues we think matter in this conversation.

  1. While it would be nice if towns and counties could make decisions where there were no negative outcomes, that doesn’t exist. The selection of Alternative 1 was made because it served the greatest good for the greatest number of people. 
  2. The cost for Alternative 1 (the most obvious choice) would be around $159M now that the county updated their cost estimates for Alt 1 and Alt 7A. The cost for Alternative 7A is now estimated around $191M. However, this new revised unvetted plan comes in at an astounding $187M. In other words, after three and a half years of study and a decision made for Alternative 1, the county has unilaterally decided to increase the cost of this project by $28M (i.e., by almost 20%).  How many schools or other needed improvements could $28 million pay for if the county would stick with their original choice?
  3. Almost all of the neighborhoods that currently reside on Dunes West Boulevard will have significant issues with turning out of their developments that are not dealt with in this new revised plan.
  4. Each of these Dunes West neighborhoods will have increased traffic that is currently routed outside on Route 41, which will create safety issues throughout that section of our community.
  5. The environmental impacts from Route 17 to the Wando River will be significantly greater with Alternative 7B vs. Alternative 1.
  6. Any option that takes cars off of our current Route 41 will increase travel times.

But what’s most concerning to us is the speed at which the county is trying to ram this decision through. With no previous warning or consultation with us (a community that will be impacted by this decision), it was announced on March 4th that the county was preparing to move forward to vote to authorize the project team to proceed with preparing the documentation for the United States Army Corp of Engineers on March 18th, just 14 days later, based on this never-seen-before plan.  

After taking three and a half years to obtain and discuss stakeholder input, the county is moving forward with an unvetted plan at a rapid pace. We can’t judge their motives, but their actions seem to suggest that they don’t want a lot of community input. Why else would they rush this new revision through? 

In the past, they’ve always given the public at least 30 days to comment. Now, it appears they want to ram this new revised model through, even though they selected Alternative 1 as the preferred alternative just a few months ago. 

So, here’s what we’d like to encourage you to do. Even if you don’t live in one of the neighborhoods directly on Dunes West Blvd, we’d like to encourage you to write and speak up for your fellow Dunes West residents. You’ve done that in the past. We’d simply ask you to do it again.

The Board is meeting with the County design team in Special Executive Session of the Board on Wednesday and we anticipate being able to update you on any developments shortly thereafter.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at board@duneswestpoa.com 

We don’t have much time so please do this ASAP. 

Always grateful,

Your Dunes West POA Board

Who to Contact and the Timeline

Following are the upcoming events that are opportunities for residents to express their opinions and ask questions of our public officials and decision makers.

Tuesday, 3/9, 5 PM:  The presentation given by the Charleston County Project Team last Thursday night will be given to Mount Pleasant Town Council.  See the agenda here: 

https://www.tompsc.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_03092021-934

The public may make comments to the Town Council following the presentation. 

Tuesday, 3/9, 6:30 PM: Charleston County Council Meeting

http://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/county-council/index.php#agendas

Charleston County Council provides a Public Comment period prior to each regularly scheduled County Council meeting. The Public Comment period is limited to 30 minutes. A sign in sheet will be available in Council Chambers 30 minutes before the posted time for the meeting to begin on the day of a County Council Meeting. The first 15 people to sign in will be allowed to speak for 2 minutes each and Council will immediately begin conducting its business at the end of the time period. As a reminder to citizens, Councilmembers are not allowed to engage in a discussion during Public Comments.

Thursday, 3/18, 5:00 PM:  Charleston County Council to hold Committee Meetings. 

Public comments will also be heard on this date. A vote will also be made by the council to determine if this Alternative is to move forward as the chosen Alternative and advanced if approved. 

There are also other mediums to have your opinions heard.

Contact Your Local and State Officials 

  • Senator Larry Grooms: (803) 212-6400
  • Herb Sass , Charleston County Council: (843) 693-8305
  • Nancy Mace : (843)-580-6223
  • April Paris Derry: (843)-352-7572 Director of Constituent Services for Nancy Mace
  • Kathy Crawford: (843)-270-4579 – Senator Scott’s office

List of Resources Regarding this Project:

Sample Questions and Comments

  • What will the increased level of traffic be on Dunes West Blvd and Park West Blvd between Hwy 41 and Bessemer Circle compared to the present and to Alternative 1? 
  • How does the revised Alternative 7A (aka Alternative 7B) accommodate the safety of the Dunes West residents in the 606 dwellings in neighborhoods off of Dunes West Boulevard, many who need to make left hand turns onto or off of Dunes West Boulevard during rush hours without controlled access?  Shouldn’t the County provide this safety/access element before submitting anything to (United States Army Corp of Engineers) USACE? If this cannot be resolved with traffic control devices, will the County add access roads to these neighborhoods and at what cost? What additional land is required for the access roads and will any homes be lost to eminent domain?
  • The county stated after receipt of public comments in September they needed to look at safety concerns for left hand turns across two lanes for residents along Highway 41.  It seems this problem was simply transferred from Highway 41 to Dunes West Boulevard and Park West Boulevard.  Is the safety of these residents less of a concern than those who would have to turn left onto and off of Highway 41 across two lanes? 
  • How can the county justify spending an additional $28M on Alternative 7B compared to Alternative 1 when it will result in longer travel times in addition to all of the other negative impacts that Alternative 7A had compared to Alternative 1 as you’ve documented? 
  • Alternative 7A was inferior to Alternative 1 in almost every category defined in the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process. Alternative 7B does not seem to address or improve any of the well documented detrimental aspects of 7A. Now, it seems they are somehow acceptable. How do you reconcile this line of thinking?
  • When will the travel times for the revised Alternative 7A (aka Alternative 7B) be published so that residents can compare how much longer their commutes will take compared to Alternative 1? 
  • At what point in the future does your traffic modeling predict that additional changes to the Highway 41 corridor would be required due to the capacity of Alternative 7B being exceeded?  If that occurs sooner than it would for Alternative 1, what will the plan be for expanding capacity?  Widening Dunes West Boulevard/Park West Boulevard to 6 lanes or widening Highway 41 to 5 lanes through Phillips Community?
  •  What do the taxpayers who don’t live in Phillips Community get for their additional $28 million dollars other than tripling of the traffic through their neighborhoods?  What will happen to property values in Dunes West if additional time to get out of the neighborhoods becomes ten minutes or more every day as we are currently seeing at the Wando Plantation Way intersection with Dunes West Boulevard every school day.  With the additional traffic, that timing will affect every neighborhood for which Dunes West Boulevard is a primary entry point.
  • There will be a much larger construction footprint, both in terms of time and physical disruptions) introducing increases in pollution, travel times and disturbances to natural resources compared to Alternative 1 while under construction. What specific data points are you using to justify this? How is this in keeping with the (National Environmental Protection Act) NEPA process regarding logistics, i.e., construction complexity? 
  • The county’s original timeline showed construction being complete in 2025.  The latest briefing indicates construction will start in 2025.  If this is accurate and the project is already three years behind schedule, how can the county justify spending an additional $28M to build an alternative that is likely to take longer to construct?  Please provide detailed schedules for completion of construction for the previously recommended Alternative 1 and this latest concept.
  • Will the County acknowledge that it already possesses the necessary right of way through the Phillips Community and that at some point in the future, due to the explosive growth in Berkley County, it will be necessary to utilize that right of way to its full potential?
  • Last August, the County requested residents to provide feedback on the Alternative 1 design they were required to view in the animated “flyover” before registering their comments.  It appears most residents did exactly that and did not provide comments on a plan that the County had just screened out according to its (National Environmental Protection Act) NEPA screening process.  During the presentation at the County committee meeting on March 4th, the number of comments in favor of Alternative 7A compared to those opposing it was noted by the presenter.  Since the County’s virtual meeting did not solicit comments on the Alternative they had just eliminated, I would question the validity of any conclusions drawn from the counts of those comments on Alternative 7A or on their content, as the public was conditioned to not comment on it.
  • During the County’s unveiling of the new Alternative to the public for the first time on March 4th, members of the committee and council appeared to be planning a vote to authorize the project team to proceed with preparing the documentation for the United States Army Corp of Engineers on March 18th, 14 days later, based on this never-seen-before plan.  It was also stated that the public would have an opportunity to comment on it during the County Council’s upcoming meeting on the 9th and presumably again on the 18th before they would hold a vote.  Every other time during the past 3.5 years when the County has introduced a new Alternative and solicited public input they have provided a 30 day period during which the public could do so.  How can the County expect the public to reasonably review and provide feedback on a previously unseen Alternative in 14 days, especially when the public only has the sparse information provided in the March 4th presentation?  Should the public not be able to see and assess the traffic modeling results, the schedule impacts, the construction logistics impacts, and all other significant (National Environmental Protection Act) NEPA impacts prior to that 30 day clock starting?  The optics and transparency are not good given that the public will have only 14 days and scare information to assess this sudden reversal of what the County had spent 3.5 years and no doubt a large amount of taxpayer dollars arriving at.
  • Based on the numbers shown regarding public comments on Alternative 1 during the August/September public comment period, Alternative 1 received more favorable comments than unfavorable, by a small margin.  During prior public comment periods over the past 3 years, Alternative 1 received overwhelming support and Alternative 7 overwhelming rejection.  Is the public feedback from prior comments considered null and void at this point?  If there were more comments in favor of Alternative 1 than opposed to it during the most recent public comment period, why has it been discarded in favor of a plan similar to one that the county previously rejected? 

The presenter during the March 4th committee meeting made the remark that after recommending Alternative 1, the County project team realized there were two other regional transportation projects (Widening of Clements Ferry Rd and Park West Boulevard) that suggested Dunes West Boulevard should also be widened.  The county’s documentation on the Highway 41 project indicates the project team was fully aware of these projects and accounted for the traffic impacts of these projects earlier in the Highway 41 project.  Can you confirm that the existence and effects of these other projects was indeed well known to the project team prior to making their recommendation in August 2020?