By TRACEY TODD
State Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall and her team of engineers deserve a hearty thank you for the latest round of planning to resurface the Dorchester County section of historic Ashley River Road. The current plan is a win-win that will increase safety and retain the historic integrity of this National Scenic Byway by saving its iconic tree canopy.
The new plan adds paved shoulders and wide rumble strips on the center and outside lines without removing large or small trees that contribute to the sense of history and place evoked by the road. Importantly, the new plan also treats the entire length of road with the same sensitive design, decreases the speed limit and engages the Highway Patrol to provide more enforcement.
I am humbled by the outpouring of support for the preservation of Ashley River Road. Lowcountry residents, public officials and preservationists alike deserve credit for their civic engagement and calling for a road resurfacing solution that does not destroy a Lowcountry treasure.
Hundreds of citizens attended the public meeting at Ashley Ridge High School and over 450 letters were submitted to the S.C. Department of Transportation during the public comment period. The Coastal Conservation League, Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, Middleton Place Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society of Charleston all actively engaged their constituents. The Ashley River Scenic Advisory Council, a longtime guardian of the river and the road, strongly advocated for a new plan.
The state Scenic Highways Committee, Chairman Hal Stevenson and local appointee Douglas McFarland were committed to maintaining the scenic qualities of the entire byway. Helen Hill and Explore Charleston expressed their support for the historic byway through the voice of state Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Duane Parish. U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham kept an eye on the project through his director of community outreach, Kaylan Koszela. The S.C. Department of Archives and History, and its director, Eric Emerson, made recommendations to protect the scenic byway, and Dorchester County Councilmen Jay Byars and Larry Hargett were advocates for ongoing public engagement.
State Sens. Sandy Senn, Larry Grooms, Chip Campsen and Sean Bennett and state Rep. Lin Bennett all recognized the historic road’s importance to Charleston and encouraged the development of a new plan. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Councilman Mike Seekings expressed their support for preserving the road. Highway Commissioner Robby Robbins worked to balance the need to add safety measures with meeting the community’s desire to save the historic character of the road.
Besides The Post and Courier, which provided stalwart support, perhaps the strongest champion of the scenic byway was Gov. Henry McMaster, who would not accept a plan that damaged one of South Carolina’s most important cultural resources.
As our community grows faster than we ever imagined, it is more important than ever to protect the Lowcountry’s fragile resources. Ashley River Road is one of those places that helps us reach back into the past. The further we reach back, it’s been said, the better we’re able to reach forward. So, let’s celebrate this win-win, and learn from the experience to better navigate Charleston’s present period of growth and prosperity. And thank you all, from deep in the heart of Ashley River Road.
Tracey Todd is president and CEO of the Middleton Place Foundation.