Should the Church Street bridge be demolished?

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Plan for protected bike-lanes on Church St. bridge gets a boost

City Council may ask SCDOT to add protected bike lanes to Church St. bridge

State Sen. William Timmons has asked the S.C. Department of Transportation to explore the possibility of removing the Church Street bridge permanently.

The bridge had been slated for rehabilitation in April, but the project has been delayed because bids came back higher than expected. The City of Greenville is also pushing for the state to install a protected bicycle and pedestrian lane to replace the bridge’s little-used sidewalks.

Timmons has asked the SCDOT for cost estimates for rehabbing the bridge, replacing it, and permanently removing the bridge and turning Church Street into a surface street there. According to the freshman lawmaker, the SCDOT is torn about what to do with the downtown bridge.

“They told me it was a narrow call whether to rehab or replace the bridge,” Timmons said. “I’ve floated the idea of removing the bridge to some people and I haven’t heard a single person who wasn’t for it.”

Removing a grade-separated highway (Church Street is also U.S. 29) in the middle of a downtown isn’t a new concept.

Rochester, N.Y. just finished converting a part of its Inner Loop highway into a surface street, and freeways and highways have been removed in Portland, San Francisco, Boston, Seoul, Korea, Chattanooga, Trenton, N.J., and Milwaukee, Wis.

In Austin, Texas, there’s an effort to “cut and cap” Interstate 35 in downtown. The interstate is partly elevated and partly sunken and the proposal would bury or “cut” the highway and “cap” it with an at-grade boulevard and mixed-use development, opening up land for development and connecting the two parts of downtown.

Mayor Knox White said of Greenville’s Church Street bridge, “They would have never put the bridge there today.”

The Church Street bridge was built in 1959, when vehicular traffic was king and providing a corridor for a growing commuter population was top priority. Church Street was extended and now runs from Wade Hampton Boulevard to Mills Avenue. The extension cut through the Camperdown Mill village.

In 2015, Church from Augusta to North Spring streets handled a daily average of 26,300 vehicles. The stretch from North Spring to Beattie Place handled 25,000 cars. At rush-hour, cars back up on the bridge as cars wait their turns to get through a series of red lights on their way to work or back home.

It seems counterintuitive, then, to take down a bridge and highway that handles much of the traffic flowing into downtown. But some cities have found that it actually results in less congestion and safer streets because traffic adapts quickly and drivers spread out, according to City to River, a citizens’ group working to reconnect the urban core of St. Louis to the Mississippi River.

A 2009 study by Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania compared the amount of new roads built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period. Turner and Duranton said new roads will create new drivers, resulting in the intensity of traffic staying the same. The study also said the opposite happens — when you eliminate lanes, the traffic on the road readjusts and overall congestion doesn’t really increase.

Removing urban highways can create multi-functional streets that can be used by motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, too, according to Congress for New Urbanism, a nonprofit that helps create vibrant and walkable cities.

The cost of removing the bridge would fall in between the cost of rehabbing it and replacing it (which SCDOT officials have said could cost $50 million).

The SCDOT had planned to start rehabilitating the bridge in April. The project would have included the hydro demolition of the existing bridge deck, structural repairs, replacement of the bridge deck surface, replacement of sidewalks, and repair of lighting conduits and circuits. Hydro demolition is a concrete removal technique that uses high-pressure water to remove concrete.

The bids for the project came in higher than expected, delaying it and allowing the SCDOT to further study the city’s request. The protected lane could be built without reducing the number of vehicular traffic lanes if the sidewalks are removed.

White said a traffic study would have to be conducted, but he was pleased to have bridge removal on the table.

What Do You Think?

21 thoughts on “Should the Church Street bridge be demolished?”

  1. I drive from Piedmont to the GTEC campus in Greer. I have no idea what road I would use if this bridge is removed.

  2. I worked at Falls and Broad for years and would take the bridge to get off on Camperdown. The bridge is so dilapidated that when traffic would back up, I was legitimately worried it would collapse. I think dropping it would provide the businesses on Broad, the new Court st extension, and McBee more visibility and allow drivers to take alternate routes to get in or out of downtown. I say drop it like its hot!

  3. First, there is no “Church Street Bridge” in Greenville, SC. There is a Mayor Kenneth Cass bridge on Church Street that serves as the gateway into downtown.

    The person who came up with the idea of removing the Cass Bridge is not much of a thinker or at least not a good one. None of the studies mentioned in the article apply to Greenville, you have to wonder why they were mentioned (is the author dishonest or just stupid?). Turning the Cass Bridge area into a surface street is impractical due to the private property that would have to seized and demolished to make the needed right-of-ways, including the brand new parking garage that nearly touches the Cass Bridge. This, of course, makes you wonder who stands to profit from the real estate transactions that would be involved and if they are behind this silly idea. Kind of like how removing the Camperdown Bridge made that dumpy law office building worth about 100 times what it was. Who is trying to buy the Federal Court building once the new Court building goes up?

    Onto what streets will traffic be diverted? What streets will drivers “adjust to”? Jones Avenue, a narrow residential street leading to the non-existent Camperdown Bridge and the quagmire of small streets behind the Greenville News building? (Who is redeveloping that site? Hmmm) Augusta Road (what foreigners call Augusta Street), a narrow and already beyond capacity street leading into the red light hell of Main St.? McDaniel Avenue to Washington to Williams to East North, which is residential, narrow and already has too much traffic? There are no other options. Greenville’s downtown is made up of short city blocks, most of which are narrow and cannot be widened. Dumping Church Street’s traffic onto downtown’s surface streets would cause gridlock nightmare. It would also give people a reason to bypass downtown altogether which runs contrary to all the efforts put into bringing people back downtown.

    Is this all just a means to erase a monument to the Democratic Mayor who got it built? Are people that petty?

    No, the Mayor Kenneth Cass Bridge should not be demolished. Doing so would only benefit those who stand to gain from real estate transactions should it happen. It will also harm downtown businesses by encouraging travelers and commuters to go elsewhere.

    1. All the right of way needed is already under the SCDOT’s control. Private parties do not own the land under the bridge. As it stands now, you can’t turn onto Webster or Broad from Church. Being able to do so (rather than forcing traffic to McBee or Washington) would be helpful. Ongoing bridge maintenance would be more expensive than maintenance a standard road. Bridges ice before roads so that is a factor as well.

      An in-depth study should be done before any money is spent for either option.

    2. Dan Dobson said it quite well. Main Street will be absolute gridlock. Even if it were still 4 lanes, as it was when I was growing up, it would be swamped!! They’ve already removed the Camperdown Bridge, making it harder to get from Church St. to Academy St. in that part of downtown. Now they want to dump even more traffic into the Main St. business district? They’re crazy!! I’m quite sure that the bridge needs repair and renovation (which should be a barrel of laughs for the buildings that have sprouted right up against the bridge in recent years!), but please do NOT remove it!!!! What a pity they can’t ask Max Heller his opinion.

  4. That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, let’s get rid of the bridge while the city grows and grows. They need a bigger bridge.

  5. Build a new landmark double-decker bridge on-top of the existing one. There would be a great view of the city from the top.

  6. The bridge itself isn’t gorgeous but the views from it certainly are. Plus it helps get from one side of downtown to the other while skipping Main Street. They should rehabilitate it.

  7. It would be a shame to remove this bridge when with a bit of repair work and repurposing it can be a unique addition to Greenville’s urban core. I envision it not only as a park and a bike way and a walkway, but also as a home to a new outdoor amphitheater (already on an incline, an amphitheater is a no brainer), and a parking area for food trucks and vendors and a huge street market. Do not tear it down. Do not make Church street a major roadway that has gone on a diet. Make it a park and a walk way for the urban core to enjoy!

  8. Oh myyyy… this is such an awful idea that has not been thought through. If you bring Church Street to level with the land it would create a mess with McBee. If you remove it completely, where would traffic go? Main St – nope. Academy? That’s already a nightmare.

  9. I’m rolling my eyes at the city planners. Removing the bridge is idiotic. Exactly where are these alternate routes? I work at corner of University Ridge and Church. Traffic on Church backs up to this intersection every evening. It’s starting to back all the way to Mills Avenue at times. Tried taking an alternate route lately? Traffic is backed up on Washington, Cleveland, University Ridge, Faris, Academy etc. The traffic lights are out of sequence. Why does the light on Washington turn red when all others are green? When it’s green, all the others are red so only a few cars get through each intersection. Traffic on the side streets are held up by overly long lights. What are the results of the traffic study done this fall? What’s the point of collecting input from commuters if you aren’t going to use it?

  10. I have to agree with others quoting… Where exactly are these alternate routes?
    I live off S Church and travel on Cleveland St. every day to and from work. When McDaniel was shut down for 1 day due to down power lines, traffic went into chaos.
    The surrounding neighborhoods cannot support additional traffic as “alternate routes” from S Church being shut down or being removed all together. These roads are already struggling to keep up.
    S Church, keeps the traffic flowing on the roads can handle the large breadth of traffic. Traffic flow issues start closer downtown, with traffic trying to get onto 385. Fix the overall traffic pattern issues first, they begin all the way down on N. Academy St. That’s where the biggest need is, the bridge is not the issue for traffic its E Washington and East North Street.
    Keep the bridge, spend some money and just fix it.

  11. And here we go again:
    I am the Right Reverend Edmund N. Cass, Great Nephew of Distinguished Mayor, Honorable James Kenneth Cass and life long resident of Greenville, SC. I call your attention to the eloquent words of Dan Dobson who has hit the nail on the head. For YEARS the City of Greenville has been attempting to “rename” the bridge and/or to demolish it. The Cass family, of whom there is a strong presence here in Greenville, has fought these efforts. And fight them we shall. Senator Timmons is clearly in the dark and, I assume will gain some favor with special interests instead of representing the honored traditions of Greenville and her people and the memory of a beloved and long-seated Mayor if he succeeds in this foolhardy venture. I cannot help but be drawn to another point as well, Political ties. Indeed the efforts to remove or rename have all come from persons or interests tied to the Republican party. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME.
    I personally condemn this venture and I ask the good people of Greenville, SC to rise up and SAVE THE JAMES KENNETH CASS bridge once and for all!

  12. I don’t care what they do. I avoid driving in Greenville’s downtown. Traffic is terrible, and frankly the hassle of getting into and out of town isnt worth the trouble to get to the restaurant or shops. Dont get me wrong, i think downtown has come a long way from what is used to be. But, just like any other rapidly growing city. They do everything in the wrong order, and once again the roads and people who drive them come last.

  13. Has anyone thought to ask our First Responders what effect taking the bridge down would mean??? That is most important to consider. I agree it would be another traffic tangle to add to the choking of downtown.

    1. I live next to Church St. and would love to see the Chuch St. bridge removed in Greenville. It’s incredibly noisy, polluting and unsafe around certain tight intersections, like Washington and Church. If the bridge were demolished, then there would be a wonderful wide space for pedestrians from Main St. to Cleveland Park!

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