Riley says $11.3M makeover includes a first step toward improving Crosstown drainage
An $11.3 million plan to give the Septima Clark Parkway a makeover and take the first steps toward reducing persistent flooding on the highway across the Charleston peninsula was approved Tuesday by City Council.
Prior to a vote awarding a contract, Mayor Joe Riley gave a spirited defense of the city's efforts to address the drainage problems, which he largely blamed on the highway itself, and he said the money to address the flooding is primarily a federal responsibility.
The city has spent more than $7 million designing a network of 130-foot-deep drainage tunnels and a pumping station capable of sending 450,000 gallons per minute into the Ashley River, but the price tag is estimated at $146 million -- more than the city's annual budget.
Riley vowed, however, that the project will be fully funded during his time as mayor, provided he wins re-election to another four-year term in November.
He described the contract awarded Tuesday as the first phase of the larger drainage project. It's being paid for mostly with a $10 million federal stimulus grant that Charleston landed, in competition with about 1,400 other applicants.
The federal grant, along with $2 million in city matching funds and the money already spent on design and engineering for the drainage solution, brings to about $19 million the amount committed to the project so far.
The first phase will replace about 5,500 feet of drainage pipe along the Crosstown highway, repave the road, improve curbs and pedestrian crossings, and install a landscaped median down the center.
Traffic delays are expected during construction, particularly from December through May, when traffic will be restricted to two lanes in each direction.
The new drainage pipes, some as large as 48 inches in diameter, are expected to improve drainage somewhat, but without the deep tunnels and the pumping station that haven't been funded, the impact of the new pipes will be limited.
Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who represents much of the West Side neighborhood impacted by the flooding, said his constituents are unlikely to be satisfied.
"After the next big rain, they're going to be under water again," said Gregorie, who ran for mayor against Riley in the last election and has been coy about whether he'll challenge Riley again this year.
"Nothing has been done (about the flooding) in my lifetime," said Gregorie, 62.
"You're still alive," Riley responded.
City Council and Riley approved the contract with O.L. Thompson Construction 12-0, with Gregorie abstaining.
In other business Tuesday:
--The council approved changes to the contract for redeveloping Concord Park, clearing the way for the Humanities Foundation to take over the affordable housing aspect of the work and seek financing to build an apartment building for senior citizens with limited incomes.
--A zoning change allowing buildings up to 100 feet tall on properties at the northwest corner of Meeting and Huger streets was approved.
--The city's comprehensive plan update was ratified without changes, although several organizations and citizens asked that a paragraph about cruise ships be amended so as not to say that a new cruise ship terminal would "reduce local impacts" from the industry.