Spring-Cannon shops brace for road construction headaches 

Located about three doors down from a busy Spring Street stoplight, The Remedy Market has seemingly found the perfect place for business. Throughout the day, owners Adaline Thomas and Billy Pope watch motorists heading down the one-way street come to a stop, look to their right, and see the business, perhaps for the first time. Others may notice the list of specials that Thomas and Pope have colorfully scrawled on the chalkboard outside. "The traffic is perfect," Thomas says.

That's about to change. By the end of the year, the city will be in the middle of an $11-million rehabilitation project of the Crosstown, during which a lane in each direction will be closed, with signs diverting that traffic off the major thoroughfare. The city is looking at a few different ways motorists will be rerouted as they travel from one side of the peninsula to the other, but at least one such route would direct highway traffic up Spring and down the parallel route, Cannon Street. As a result, both streets, which are already clogged, will experience even greater traffic.

Thomas is worried that the proposed Spring Street rerouting will lead the locals her business depends on to seek out alternate routes. "It's going to be a place people are going to avoid," she says.

However, Spring and Cannon streets will only be affected for a limited time. Although some work on the Crosstown will begin this spring, the lanes on the highway won't start closing until December and will last for three to four months.

Despite that short amount of time, Sugar Bakeshop owner Bill Bowick is still worried that the increased traffic will drive off the regular customers the Cannon Street bakery has drawn from other peninsula neighborhoods over the past few years. Bowick notes that currently many drivers already treat the more neighborhood-like Cannon Street as if it was the speedier Crosstown. "We already have trouble with speeders," Bowick says. "They're really going to be flying then."

Thom Williams, owner of Books, Herbs, and Spices located at the corner of Spring and Coming streets, says he has seen too many accidents at the intersection. "People are just chomping at the bit and get in trouble," he says. Asked about the added traffic during Crosstown repairs, Williams says, "It's going to be a nightmare."

Black Bean Co. owner Ellis Grossman is worried about the increased traffic, but he's more concerned about the condition of the street itself. "The road is deteriorating and deteriorating," Grossman says, and that's before the added stress of all of those rerouted vehicles. He also notes that several deli customers have complained about potholes.

Meanwhile, Manny Gonzales, the owner of Tiger Lily Florist on Spring Street, is hopeful that the new traffic will mean fresh interest in the neighborhood. He hung his shingle on Spring nearly seven years ago, and for the majority of that time, the neighborhood has been developing slowly. However, lately that has changed. Gonzales says that within the past few months, there has been an explosion of new boutiques and renovated homes. "Day after day, I just keep seeing this positive energy," Gonzales says. "Maybe, by accident, people will discover us."

The city will likely meet this fall with businesses owners to conduct traffic studies to analyze the best way to reroute the highway traffic during Crosstown beautification. But Spring Street's Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood got an early indication last week that it was in the cross hairs. The city is delaying $5.5 million in improvements to the Spring and Cannon corridor until the Crosstown work is completed — meaning it will be May 2012 before crews begin resurfacing the streets, laying new sidewalks and landscaping, and converting the one-way express routes into two-way neighborhood avenues.

When Gonzales and his wife, Clara, moved their shop to Spring Street in 2004, they were told to expect the streetscaping in about a year. "We thought we got in at just the perfect time," Gonzales says. Since then, he's seen other busy downtown streets get upgrades, including King Street and Rutledge and Ashley avenues. "We've just been waiting out here," Gonzales says.

Grossman, who opened the deli last year, notes that he could have found a spot on King. "Everyone told me I was crazy for being in an area like this." But, like Gonzales, he saw potential in the community. Now, he and his partner have been helping out their neighbors. They repainted a nearby corner store and cleaned up the parking lot at the church down the street. "It makes the community look better," Grossman says.

Sugar's Bowick is also upset about the delay. "It feels like it's a trend in how the city has dealt with this neighborhood," he says, noting the abuse began decades ago when the Crosstown was cut through the middle of the neighborhood in the first place. Now, it seems like every other neighborhood gets improvements like streetsweeping and the two-way rerouting before Cannonborough-Elliotborough. "When are we going to be first?" he says.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley points out that the Crosstown work and the Spring and Cannon upgrades are inter-related. The first project is being paid for with spend-it-or-lose-it federal stimulus dollars. Riley has promised to find the rest of the money in the next four years, but it quite frankly may be better to spend what's available now, while recognizing that it's just the first step in addressing significant flooding problems on the highway. And that flooding is already impacting business deliveries and customer access for nearby Spring and Cannon. The mayor notes that negotiations with the South Carolina Department of Transportation regarding the Spring and Cannon work has delayed that project until early 2012, regardless of the Crosstown. "We wouldn't be able to start two or three months sooner," he says. "I really don't think we can do anything different than what we're doing. The good news is that the Spring/Cannon streetscape will be done."

And that's the uncomfortable conciliation: the increased traffic and the two-way delay will be followed by promised upgrades. That the glut of highway motorists will be followed shortly by a calmer, much improved city street. Resting after a recent busy lunch shift at Remedy, Thomas can see beyond the traffic up ahead. "It's the bad before the good," she says.


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