DOT going down the wrong road to get to 526

Apparently it’s going to take a lot to clear the path for I-526.

Charleston County is probably going to have to go through a couple of neighborhoods, at least one lawsuit — and a whole bunch of malarkey.

Last week, state Department of Transportation commissioners tried to throw up another roadblock, telling reporter Diane Knich that they aren’t so sure they want the county in charge of the controversial road project.

More tellingly, they raised concerns about being on the hook for more money, because the county has offered to pay folks who live near the road for lost property values.

Ah, that old chestnut.

That should provide a clue as to who is behind this latest 526 speed bump. The DOT obviously has been talking to folks who oppose the road extension.

These people, who have good reason to be wary, are focused too much on this idea that the county promised to compensate people who lived within 1,000 feet of it.

It’s a nice try, and it’s going to give the county continued headaches — but the argument probably won’t hold up in court.

The fine print

Last December, County Council voted 5-4 to build the road, and you would have thought the world as we know it had come to an end.

Well, at least Johns Island as we know it.

The resolution passed only after council accepted an amendment from Councilwoman Anna Johnson, who had some conditions for her vote.

Council had to drop the idea of an at-grade intersection at Riley Road on James Island. And the county had to “make good faith efforts to evaluate and consider claims made by residents for compensation due to the impact” of the road.

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor and other 526 supporters say the idea was to set up a system for people to file claims with the county without going to court. And it also puts the county on the hook for berms and buffers, things to minimize the road’s impact.

The amendment never says anything about paying anyone. Not once.

But that’s how a lot of people took it. And you could argue that was the idea.

“I left that meeting thinking we’re going to compensate these folks,” says Councilman Dickie Schweers. “But I also knew in the back of my head that wasn’t going to happen.”

Of course it won’t. The county probably couldn’t do that legally — even if it wanted to — and the way the resolution and its amendment are worded, it likely won’t.

Transportation commissioners should know that, but as Schweers notes, that’s probably going to be up to a judge or jury to decide.

So it’s going to be a long time before this road is built.

So sue ’em

In truth, no one is going to be able to prove their property has lost value until after 526 is built.

And some proponents say these folks might even find their property values go up when they can get to Citadel Mall and the airport in five or 10 minutes instead of 30.

Something to consider.

From the county’s point of view, the Transportation Department has just about been cut out of the equation. What, you think they want the people who brought you the I-26 widening to handle this project?

Fact is, the State Infrastructure Bank is funding the bulk of the road, along with a county match, and Charleston County wants to build it. And just as the DOT was prepared to sue the county for not building the road, some Charleston County officials are just as willing to file a lawsuit against DOT if it now tries to stop them.

The opponents of 526 and DOT commissioners might have good reasons for wanting to kill this road project, but they are going to need to find another avenue.

This whole argument about paying residents for lost property values is a losing battle, and a waste of time.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com. Tune in to his live chat at noon today on www.postandcourier.com

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