BY JEFF WILKINSON | jwilkinson@thestate.com

Visitors to Fort Jackson soon will have to use a new gate at Percival Road rather than the main gate at Forest Drive/Strom Thurmond Boulevard.

Officials at the Army’s largest training base opened a second, temporary Visitor Control Center at Percival Road Jan. 4. That gate eventually will become the main entry point for everyone entering the installation who does not carry military or Department of Defense identification cards.

The new gate is intended to help alleviate traffic congestion along Forest Drive and Interstate 77.

Forest Drive sees about 27,000 vehicles daily and is expected to reach the road’s capacity – about 30,000 – in the next eight to 15 years, a traffic data analysis found.

“This is a work in progress,” Fort Jackson spokesman Pat Jones said. “It’s a long-term project to help alleviate traffic.”

Backups occur frequently in the mornings at the Forest Drive gate, when most of the fort’s 7,000 or so soldiers and civilian employees show up for work.

Backups often become severe on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the fort typically holds graduation events for soldiers who have completed basic training. About 200,000 family members attend those events each year.

Now, all of those family members are being directed to the new Percival Road gate.

About 42,000 soldiers a year receive basic training at the post. Another 28,000 soldiers and sailors a year receive advanced training there. The fort trains 54 percent of all new soldiers in the Army and 61 percent of new female soldiers.

Fort Jackson is essentially a small city – with a hospital, four museums, even a water park that is open to visitors.

Prior to last year, those visitors could enter the fort simply by showing a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance. Now, due to terrorist concerns, each visitor must go through a background check and receive a pass, which is a challenge for posts like Fort Jackson that are open to the general public..

Col. Mark Shade, the post’s deputy commander, said that burden has lessened as frequent visitors to the post have started getting annual passes.

“When it first came up, we had a back log,” he said. “It’s not a huge challenge any more.”

Traffic on Forest Drive is a continuing challenge for the city’s planners.

The introduction two years ago of Trader Joe’s and the congregation of upscale shops around Trenholm Plaza have drawn more and more people and cars to the area. The proposed redevelopment of the former Cardinal Newman School site to include nearly 300 apartments and commercial shops adds another layer of traffic concerns. A public hearing on that project is set for next month.

While some steps have been proposed to help with Forest Drive traffic flow, such as planted medians and retimed lights, widening the road is not an option. So funneling some of the traffic to the Percival Road gate is a plus.

The plan had been to divert all visitors to the new gate this year, but money for the new gate will have to be used to repair roads washed out by the flood in October, Shade said. The project, which does not yet have a price tag, likely will be rolled over into the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

“We just wanted to increase the capacity,” Shade said. “So the good news is the temporary gate is open.”

Staff writer Sarah Ellis contributed.
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