Well, that was easy.

For all the fighting and the protests, all the threats and the politicking, it was actually pretty quiet when County Council voted to finish I-526.

Maybe it was a stunned silence. A lot of people wonder how this happened. Fact is, like many long-term relationships, it's complicated.

Part of it was Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who inadvertently shamed council when he offered to build the road. There was no question that Riley could get 526 extended, and that made some council members feel like they were kicking the can down the road, shirking their responsibilities.

Riley made them get serious.

Part of it was the concessions — the noise buffers, the overpass at Folly Road, nixing the traffic lights. A few cosmetic changes, and suddenly the road seemed a little more palatable. They decided, as Councilman Vic Rawl said, it's about as good as it's going to get.

Finally, though, it was the realization among council members that they've been dragging their feet long enough, that they had been jerking people around.

It was simply time.

As the council turns

There were so many mini-dramas going on Thursday, you need a scorecard to keep up.

Councilwoman Anna Johnson, by far the quietest member of the panel, found her voice. She demanded changes to the project, which she got, and faced down Nix 526, a group that said she was breaking campaign promises.

Johnson took the biggest chance, and could face the most repercussions.

Elliott Summey, council's most vocal proponent of the road, was staring down the barrel of history. He is the third generation of his family to deal with this road. It was conceived when his grandfather, Miner Crosby, served on council. Most of 526 was built when his father, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, served as chairman of the council.

Then there was Joe Qualey, whose unwavering stand against the road won him the love of the Nix 526 crowd and many of his James Island brethren. If his Kiawah and Seabrook constituents were less pleased, they can't say they weren't warned.

And Colleen Condon, the most outspoken critic of the road, fought till the end, even though many elected officials say the vast majority of her constituents in West Ashley want the road.

Rawl, who grew up on Johns Island, went against some of his old friends but made the point of the night when he noted all the opposition to various local road projects over the years. Rawl said a lot of people griped about the James Island connector, and today they all use it.

It struck a perfect note.

Finally, swing vote Herb Sass decided that, with a few changes (like that Folly Road overpass), he could look at the big picture and go along with the program.

The winners called it a compromise, and the losers called it a travesty.

But now, it's neither — it's reality.

The changing crusade

So the drama is over, sort of.

Some of those council members will face opposition when they come up for re-election, but many people will forget.

There will be lawsuits and environmental studies. We are probably three years out from seeing any actual work.

It would be easy to pick winners and losers here, but that accomplishes nothing. Council members say it's time to heal — but of course politicians say that hoping folks will forget and move on.

It's actually time for a new fight, one that should be far less contentious.

The Nix 526 group should not disband, it should continue the fight for Johns Island.

The truth is, Johns Island can be developed only by Johns Island property owners. The Nix folks should put their considerable energy toward securing conservation easements for property on the island to keep it from becoming James Island or Mount Pleasant.

Nobody wants that, except maybe the developers. So stop them.

Change may be inevitable, but the fight isn't over. It merely adapts to the new reality.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

or read his blog at blog.postandcourier.com/brians-blog.