BALOG COLUMN: The best time to finish I-526 is now
Sure they could have said it with flowers, or a singing telegram.
But our local elected leaders decided they’d try this instead: Get together in a meeting room at the Lonnie Hamilton Services Building and express their unequivocated support for the completion of Interstate 526.
They did this, they said, because the state DOT needs assurance of community support for the project. So they created a who’s who gathering of local mayors and other elected officials, with a couple of state leaders to boot.
The message was this: The community wants the completion of I-526. So let’s do it now, before the cost gets higher and the money goes away.
Going my way
Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor may have provided the most enlightening moment in the meeting.
Pryor asked audience members if those who came to North Charleston from Johns Island would stand up or raise their hands. Four people did.
He then asked them to raise their hands if they used I-526 to get there.
All four did. “If you’re not in favor of it, why do you use it?” he asked.
Like thousands of other drivers, they use 526 because they need to. And many more would use the completed portion, people who are trapped in traffic jams on the way to work or school.
The mayors of Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant along with House Speaker Bobby Harrell, state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, Pryor, County Council Vice Chairman Elliot Summey and Charleston Councilman Bill Moody wanted to drive that point home.
Now, it’s slightly disingenuous to say that the road will not lead to more development. Yes, development has already come, but if it is easier to get around, then more people are likely to show up.
Of the 30 or so folks in the audience Friday, about a half-dozen wore anti-526 stickers, though several more were against the road completion as well.
Public opinion can change projects. We’ve seen that with the West Ashley greenway paving. Of course, that project is still happening, the paving is just narrower than planned.
Nothing will change the fact that the completion of 526 will alter the landscape and create personal hardships for those in its path.
But there have been and can be allowances in the 526 completion plan to keep the rural flavor of Johns Island intact, for instance, because that’s been a sticking point.
As Stavrinakis and others said, when people hear or read that a road is going to be built, they take for granted that it will happen.
He and Moody said they’ve heard from many people in their respective districts who are trapped in their neighborhoods by people trying to circumvent the traffic jams on Savannah Highway, Wesley Drive and elsewhere. Both pointed to surveys they commissioned that showed majority support for the road.
The group ended with this fact: The Charleston area is home to three of the five largest cities in the state, but there’s no road that links them together. When you say it that way, it sure seems to make sense to build the darn thing already.
Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at firstname.lastname@example.org.