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Good news for the preservation of National Historic Byway, Ashley River Road

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The following letter from Carter Hudgins, President and CEO of Drayton Hall Preservation Hall was sent to friends of Drayton Hall on November 8, 2019 and marks a great relief that Ashley River Road will not be widened:

Friends,

I am writing to you with good news regarding the proposed changes to our historic frontage road, Ashley River Road, Highway 61: The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has announced changes to the proposed highway safety plan for Ashley River Road which will not require the removal of trees along the roadside to allow for significant widening. 70% of the comments received by the SCDOT during the public’s comment period objected to the two plans in consideration; one which required the removal of 283 trees, and a second requiring the removal of 58 trees.

In an email to you in September, Drayton Hall advocated for alternative solutions to the problem of highway safety on Ashley River Road including speed enforcement and lower speed limits. We appealed to you for help in preserving the historic byway and you answered the call for this national treasure as never before. Today, I am pleased to report your efforts have succeeded in protecting Ashley River Road for generations to come.

I would like to share with you now the statement released yesterday by SCDOT:

SCDOT Revises the Design of the SC 61 Safety Project in Dorchester County

Since the September 24th public meeting regarding the SC 61 Rural Road Safety Project in Dorchester County, SCDOT’s project team has continued to work to refine the proposed design of the safety features of the project.  

The original proposed designs for the corridor included two alternatives, one of which called for the removal of 283 trees or a second alternative that impacted 58 trees along the historic route.  The majority of public comments disapproved of both originally proposed alternatives due to the potential impacts to trees and the canopy along this scenic highway. Additionally, roughly 40% of the comments requested increased enforcement as well as a reduction to the existing 55-mph speed limit.

A detailed analysis of nearly seven years of crash data along the corridor also revealed that the fatal crashes were typically happening at night, involved speeding and/or driving under the influence.  Sixty-three percent of all fatal crashes along the corridor had crossed the centerline.  Fifty percent of all fatal crashes also occurred at curves along the highway. 

Based on the detailed crash analysis, stakeholder input, coordination with law enforcement and a thorough review of the more than 450 public comments received regarding the project, the SCDOT project team has developed a new refined design for the safety project.  The refined design calls for the repaving of the existing road, paving 3 feet of the existing shoulder, adding rumble strips on both the centerline and edge lines, adding wider and brighter centerline and edge line pavement markings, adding warning signs at the curves, extending the 45-mph speed limit into Dorchester County to better match the current speed limit for SC 61 in Charleston County and increased law enforcement presence.

The refined design will fit in the existing corridor and will not require the removal of any trees along SC 61.  “We are very thankful to be able to work with the community to develop a safety project that targets the right safety issues and maintains the scenic beauty of this historic highway in the Lowcountry”, says Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall.  SCDOT Commission Chairman Robby Robbins added, “We are also appreciative of Governor McMaster’s support of a comprehensive approach to safety, including asking the South Carolina Department of Public Safety to assist with increasing the presence of law enforcement along SC 61.”

“We must be good stewards of the natural, historic beauty of our state and we must always strive to provide for the safety of South Carolinians,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “Secretary Hall’s communication and collaboration with local leaders has resulted in a safety plan for this scenic highway that will achieve both of these goals. Because of this innovative plan, this road will be safer for our people than it has ever been before and it will be as beautiful as ever.”

SCDOT will now finalize the preliminary engineering of the project and expects to advance the project to the construction phase by late 2020.  

This fall has been particularly challenging as both the protection of the Ashley River Road historic byway and Drayton Hall’s recovery from Hurricane Dorian demanding attention and assistance from you as friends of Drayton Hall. Please accept my personal thanks for all you do in both gestures and donations to help when Drayton Hall and the historic district need assistance. I remain grateful for your partnership in preservation and thankful for your willingness to act in the interest of Charleston’s history.

With sincere thanks,
Carter C. Hudgins, Ph.D
President and Chief Executive Officer