Editorial: Southernside needs a foot bridge


Southernside needs a foot bridge

Southernside residents and their many friends have successfully used the power of community activism and the threat of federal intervention to get plans rolling for a pedestrian bridge to replace the Hampton Avenue truss bridge that was demolished almost two years ago and split a poor neighborhood in half. What has taken place over the past year proves that a seemingly forgotten neighborhood can get attention and justice when it comes together in the face of adversity.
Elected leaders who represent the Southernside area and longtime neighborhood leaders recently announced they have withdrawn a complaint filed with the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights. A year ago the federal agency agreed to investigate whether the S.C. Department of Transportation had followed procedures correctly in the demolition of the Hampton Avenue Bridge and whether Southernside residents were discriminated against during the process.
Once the Federal Highway Administration took an interest in whether Southernside residents were treated fairly, an odd thing happened. Suddenly state transportation officials took an interest in helping the local group fighting to get a new foot bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks carved deep into the earth below.
“We’ve made significant progress. As a result we have a better relationship with SC DOT,” state Rep. Chandra Dillard, who filed the federal complaint along with longtime Southernside resident Mary Duckett, said recently in a meeting with Greenville News editors and reporters. The group that includes other residents and elected leaders believe they have a viable solution, but Dillard said the group has a year to ask the federal investigators to reopen the case if the newly developed plans “go south.”
The new plans call for a pedestrian bridge to span the railroad tracks that sit below two steep hills. Up until 15 years ago a vehicular bridge crossed the tracks but it was closed to traffic. Neighborhood residents have contended the bridge fell into disrepair because it was not maintained.
The bridge was vital to the life of a neighborhood that until recent years had gotten little attention, and few financial resources, to address legitimate concerns. The bridge allowed the community to be whole. It made it possible for family and friends to visit each other. It allowed a neighborhood that has many people without cars to go shopping, seek medical care and even catch a bus.
To people who don’t live in the neighborhood and who never encounter any real problems with transportation, the Hampton Avenue Bridge that still was used by pedestrians was little more than a dangerous eyesore. State transportation officials were right to be concerned about safety, but they failed to listen to residents’ problems and provide an adequate alternative for them.
The proposed solution was a callous one. Namely, the residents could use the Pete Hollis Boulevard to get across the railroad tracks, and it was just 1. 5 miles away. To some people, the distance is what some people walk on an after-dinner stroll many nights. To Southernside residents, the distance was a hardship. A store or relatives suddenly were not the equivalent of a few blocks away. A 1.5 mile trip became 3 miles considering someone had to return the same way.
A pedestrian bridge will cost about $1.3 million, and Greenville County’s Transportation Committee already has pledged $500,000 to help with the project. The foot bridge for Hampton Avenue made it to the No. 2 spot on the list of projects that will be funded if Greenville County voters this November approve a 1 percent sales tax increase for road improvements that include bridges, resurfacing work and “pedestrian amenities” such as sidewalks. Dillard said her group has a Plan B if voters reject the idea of temporarily raising the sales tax to pay for road improvements. Clearly the Southernside effort will be helped immensely if the sales tax is approved and the funding is in place by the end of this year.
Details other than securing all the money must be worked out. Southernside leaders are confident those matters can be cleared up given the assistance they have gotten from Greenville County and the support of late from state transportation officials. This once-proud neighborhood has suffered greatly over the past few decades, and the residents deserve a bridge that once again will connect a neighborhood.
This post originally appeared in The Greenville News on 08/10/2014