The answer to the question posed on the front page of Tuesday's paper — “Will we glide above I-26?” — is probably not.
But even though the chances of seeing a magnetic levitation system are probably slim, that doesn't mean other transportation improvements can't be made between Summerville and Charleston.
A study commissioned by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments is supposed to come up with a viable transportation alternative by April 2014. The first step is analyzing about a dozen options, including mag-lev and others.
Other recent studies have focused more narrowly on the concept of a commuter rail line on existing CSX or Norfolk-Southern tracks. A poll Tuesday on postandcourier.com asked whether there would be train transit from Summerville to Charleston “in your lifetime.” About two-thirds of those who responded answered “no.” That means either there are lots of skeptics out there or there are lots of people who remember the ill-fated monorail proposal.
“It starts with what we're calling the universe of options, everything that is a public transit option” said COG senior planner Jessica Gillis. “We start to narrow it down based on constraints and alignments.”
The aim is to not only reduce traffic congestion, which costs the region $240 million in wasted time and productivity each year, but to figure out how to move people in a smarter way.
Room for improvement
Now, there will be some people for whom public transit just isn't a viable option. Those in outside sales are not likely to be willing or able to give up their vehicles (neither are reporters, for that matter). But inside sales staff, a majority of shift workers and others who don't have to leave their workplace once they arrive could benefit greatly from some kind mass transit.
Anything would be an improvement — less than 1 percent of workers in the state use public transportation, and about 80 percent of South Carolinians who drive to their jobs drive alone. Those are big numbers to change. So it's no surprise a large component of the study involves education, Gillis said.
“What we're finding is a lack of facts. People think they know what bus rapid transit is,” for instance, she said. But they don't. So just getting people familiar with the different options is an admirable goal.
Employers will play a big role in helping with the study. Input from companies like Boeing, Bosch, MeadWestvaco, the school districts, colleges and universities is being sought to find out where the employees live and work, what shifts they work, whether they have to pay for parking.
Individuals still have opportunities to provide input, too.
The study website, i26alt.org, is a great resource where you can sign up for its newsletter, track the progress and find out when the next public meetings will be held.
A solution could include a combination of options. Anything to get people out of their cars and out of traffic is worth trying.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.