Conflict and controversy over the completion of Interstate 526 have become more impassable than traffic anywhere in West Ashley or on Johns or James islands.
WHAT: Charleston County Council likely will vote on whether to turn over the project to the city of CharlestonWHEN: Dec. 13, time not yet availableWHERE: Second floor, Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston
That was clear at a standing-room-only Charleston County Council meeting Tuesday night, which included presentations for and against the controversial and long-stalled extension of the road across the islands.
Robin Welch, from the opposition group Nix 526, and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley made presentations.
And county staffers addressed council about options for moving forward. S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell was scheduled to address council, but he was delayed in Columbia and could not attend, said Council Chairman Teddie Pryor.
Residents speak out
Johns Island resident Brad Taggert came out to encourage public officials to build the road. It would cut 14 miles off his daily commute from his home to his job in North Charleston, he said, and that would save him a lot of time.
Taggert is a member of the Facebook group Charlestonians for I-526, which has more than 3,000 members.
James Island residents Bill and Brook Lyon showed up to oppose the project. They are members of Nix 526, which has nearly 6,000 members on Facebook.
“We’re hoping to show the political powers that be that completing 526 is a terrible idea,” Brook Lyon said. She is opposed because she thinks it will back up traffic on James Island, and it’s bad for the environment.
The extension of the Mark Clark Expressway has become a polarizing issue in the region. And things have heated up in recent weeks, after the city of Charleston asked County Council to turn over sponsorship of the project. County Council has been reluctant to build the road. And some members have expressed concern over turning over the project to the city, which certainly would build it.
County Council likely will vote Dec. 13 on whether to turn over the project to the city.
If the crowd Tuesday was any indication, most people have made up their minds about whether they support the completion of I-526. And it seemed unlikely any were changed by the presentations.
Welch said members of her group were opposed to the project for many reasons, but she focused her presentation on how the parkway plan for the road was not the best way to solve the region’s traffic problems and its impact on the lives of those who live in or near its proposed path.
She said her group understands the need for traffic solutions. “Nobody is advocating no build,” Welch said. “We advocate better build.”
She thinks a bundle of smaller projects at critical choke points could solve traffic problems better than the parkway-style road, which is the DOT’s preferred plan and known as Alternative G. Some of those projects are:
Improvements to the intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and Main Road.
Widening of Main Road from Bees Ferry Road to Maybank Highway.
Adding passing lanes on Bohicket Road.
Those projects would cost about $260 million, less than half the $558 million cost of building I-526.
The S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which is funding the project, shot down such a request from County Council in 2011.
Welch said the bank board likely will have some new members soon, and it’s likely they would consider a request to reduce the amount the county is asking for, which would make money available for other projects in the state.
She also said that if the road was built, nearly 700 families would be forced to live within 500 feet of it, and that 21 families could lose their homes.
Riley said he also wanted to make two points.
First, the county is busy with many other things, so it would make sense for the city to take over and build the road. And completing the road is important to alleviate future traffic problems.
“This area is growing and thank goodness it’s growing,” Riley said. “In government, we have a duty to provide infrastructure for future generations.”
The road project, which would include overpasses at Folly and Up on the Hill roads, would be a partnership between the city and the county, he said.
Building it would be like completing a heart bypass operation, he said. “We have worn-out arteries, such as Savannah Highway, which has more traffic than it was designed for.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.
Photographs by Steve Jahnke/Special to the Post and Courier Charleston Mayor Joe Riley became animated during Tuesday’s public hearing when talking about the positive impact the completion of Interstate 526 would have on the region.×
Robin Welch with Nix 526 used a Powerpoint presentation to offer alternatives to the proposed plan during a public hearing Tuesday at the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building in North Charleston.×