by Chris Haire
One of the things that City Paper News Editor Greg Hambrick learned this week as he has jumped head-first into the Dept. of Commerce's rail plan — which will send even more trains running through Park Circle — is that the state simply hasn't conducted any studies about how their plan will effect traffic on North Rhett.
I know. It's a shock. But it's true. And the thing is, you have to wonder why?
See, under the Commerce Department's plan, the primary rail line from the proposed port on the north end of the Navy Yard will go up Virginia Avenue — near Madra Rua and the Mill — and cross over North Rhett at the I-526 interchange, cutting Park Circle off from I-526 traffic.
As port traffic increases and a terminal for BMW becomes operational, the railway crossing over North Rhett will likely be in near-constant use, dramatically changing Park Circle. I mean, who wants to go grab a burger at Sesame when chances are you're going to be stopped by a train? And who wants to live in Oak Terrace when, not only will trains will be running virtually nonstop a football field away from your house, but even getting to that house will be a long, hard slog? No one, that's who.
And as a result, Park Circle businesses will close, property values will drop, and a once promising neighborhood will go down the crapper.
But the state's rail plan will affect more than just Park Circle businesses and residents. Both Academic Magnet and School of the Arts students will likely be caught up in a train-induced traffic snarl on a regular basis.
Both Academic Magnet and the School of the Arts — the number one magnet school in the nation and the second best high school in the state, respectively — are attended by students from all over the county.
Not surprisingly, huge portions of their student populations come from the East Cooper area, students who travel to the campus via I-526. These students exit 526 at North Rhett on their way to their respective schools, both of which are located on the same campus near the new Oak Terrace neighborhood in Park Cirlce. Each day these students pass over the existing rail line crossing North Rhett on their way to and from school.
As for the number of students who could be potentially impacted by the increased rail traffic on North Rhett that the Commerce Dept.'s plan will bring, well, those numbers are pretty large, according to 2010-2011 enrollment figures provided to the CP by the Charleston County School District.
The East Cooper area — comprised of Mt. P, Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island — currently sends 282 students to Academic Magnet and 325 to School of the Arts.
Students who call east of the Cooper home aren't the only ones who pass over the rail line on North Rhett. So do the students traveling from West Ashley who take I-526 to the two Park Circle schools. According to the same data, 128 West Ashley-area students attend Academic Magnet and 370 attend School of the Arts.
Now, I don't know if the Commerce Department is aware that their rail plan will affect these students. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. But the cynic in me says they don't. Hell, they probably don't even know the number one magnet high school in the nation and the number two high school in the state are located in Park Circle.
(In the spirit of disclosure, I'm a Park Circle resident and my wife works for the school district.)