HICKS COLUMN: Let the I-526 lobbying begin
It's going to be a tough couple of months for Henry Darby, Anna Johnson and Herb Sass.
The three Charleston County Council members are going to find themselves very popular with local leaders this fall. They may be wined and dined, courted and wooed, promised the moon.
And if all that doesn't work, they may get bullied, berated and strong-armed. All in the name of progress.
The simple fact is that if Interstate 526 is going to be completed, two of them are going to have to be the swing votes.
Since the state Department of Transportation Commission unanimously declined to take over the project last month, the folks who want to see the $558 million road built have been quietly regrouping, trying to figure out how to get this party started.
They've got the money, but they don't quite have the political will. As Diane Knich reports, at least five of nine council members are inclined to vote against it.
So supporters of 526 are in a tight spot — because there may be only one chance left to build this road.
If not now...
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley gives a brutally honest assessment of the 526 predicament.
“If it's not built now, it never will be,” Riley says.
That's not hyperbole, it's a plausible prediction. Right now, the money (or the promise of money) for the project is earmarked, and you can't guarantee that it still will be when, or if, political sentiment changes. By then, the road could cost much more to build, making it even tougher to round up the cash.
And the sad fact is that Johns Island is developing more quickly than a lot of folks would like. If another decade passes, there may not be a path for the road. Well, not without declaring eminent domain over entire subdivisions.
Riley says that without 526, Savannah Highway will be a parking lot by 2030 and the Wappoo Cut Bridge will be just as jammed as it was before the James Island connector opened. Spend a little time in traffic these days, and that's not hard to believe.
Opponents of the road, who have a united front and, for the moment, the upper hand, say 526 isn't the answer. Ultimately, Darby, Johnson and Sass are going to have to decide who is right.
Right now, County Council has three fairly solid votes to build 526: Chairman Teddie Pryor, Vice Chairman Elliott Summey and Vic Rawl.
The rest are not real keen on the idea. Dickie Schweers, Joe Qualey and Colleen Condon appear pretty dug in, so no one will spend a lot of time trying to change their minds.
The pressure on Darby, Johnson and Sass will come from within the county and the legislative delegation. Riley will lobby, for sure, but the hardcore pressure will come from those other places.
“When they gather all the facts, I think County Council will support it,” Riley says.
He may very well be right. But that only happens if Darby, Johnson and Sass make the toughest decision of their political careers.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.