The completion of Interstate 526 across James and Johns islands appeared to be on life support, but Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has a plan to revive it.
Nov. 13: Charleston City Council is to vote on a resolution to request that Charleston County turn over the project to the city.Dec. 13: The plan for the city to take over the project will be included in a list of options on the future of I-526 that Charleston County Council is to consider at a Finance Committee meeting.
Riley said Friday that he thinks the city of Charleston should take over the controversial road project. He also thinks the majority of City Council members would vote in favor of it.
Charleston County now has control of the $558 million road project, but at least five of the nine County Council members have said they were not inclined to vote in favor of the state Department of Transportation’s plan to complete the road as a parkway instead of a high-speed interstate.
Riley said he plans to ask City Council on Nov. 13 to consider passing a resolution to request that Charleston County turn over the project to the city.
He also said he sent letters to all city and county council members Friday, telling them about his plan.
Riley said completing the Mark Clark Expressway is “essential for the health, safety, and livability of the city of Charleston.” And, he thinks the majority of city and county residents support the project.
He also said the city of Charleston is the only municipality through which the road would run, so he thinks it’s appropriate for the city to take control of the project.
The current proposed route for the road passes through unincorporated parts of Charleston County, Riley said. But the city would not need county approval as it would if the road passed through another city or town.
The long-stalled I-526 project suffered a huge setback in September when the DOT’s commission refused to take over the project from Charleston County. County Council earlier had voted against building the road, which received strong opposition from residents during public hearings. But council rescinded that decision when it learned it could be on the hook for $11.6 million already spent on the road.
County Council then voted to ask the DOT to take over the project, but the political hot potato ended up back in the county’s hands after the DOT shot it down.
Supporters of the road think it’s needed for safety and to alleviate traffic congestion. Opponents say traffic problems could be resolved by fixing local roads and that the extension would promote sprawl, especially on Johns Island.
Robin Welch, one of the organizers of the grass roots opposition group Nix 526, which has more than 4,000 members on Facebook, said she and other members of her group needed time to digest the news. But, Riley’s move is “a real low blow and a subversion of Democracy,” she said.
Bev Jenkins, a spokesman for Charlestonians for I-526, a group that has more than 1,000 members on Facebook, said his group also needs more time discuss the plan. But he thinks it sounds like a good one. Members will attend all relevant city and county meetings on the issue, he said.
Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, one of three council members in favor of I-526, said Riley contacted him to discuss the possibility of the city taking over the road project. For that to happen, a majority of County Council members would have to vote in favor of turning the project over to the city, he said.
Pryor said Riley’s plan will be included in a list of options on what to do next about I-526, which County Council will consider at a Finance Committee Dec. 13.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.