Charleston County Council on Tuesday concluded a decade-long debate, voting for improvements to Harbor View Road on James Island.
The question is no longer whether to have sidewalks on both sides of the road or just one (it will be both), but how to ensure public accountability for such planning processes in the future.
Council member Joe Qualey, who has seen first-hand the sometimes dizzying route of Harbor View events, would be a good person to advise Charleston County about how to keep council members and the public better informed.
Mr. Qualey, who took the lead in the Harbor View Road debate, was shocked Friday when he learned that the plan he helped design with input from neighbors — a plan County Council approved unanimously — had been replaced by another on a Finance Committee agenda.
Mr. Qualey and the public should have been made aware months ago that their vision for Harbor View Road was back on the debate table. The S.C. Department of Transportation determined it was unsafe.
Mr. Qualey, when he finally ferreted out information about the change of plans, voted as DOT recommended. And neighbors, who clearly want the road to be safe for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as cars, might well have conceded gracefully, too.
But because they weren’t fully informed, they reacted initially with outrage.
The neighbors’ input was an important part of the design process. And while the final plan isn’t exactly what they wanted, the design is far better than the original plan because of their participation.
For example, instead of requiring a 69-foot-wide footprint, it will use only 61 feet. That means less intrusion into people’s property and more green space saved.
Still, it shouldn’t be so difficult for the public and their elected representatives to get accurate and updated information. It might have shortened the course of the debate, or at least clarified the conditions of the discussion months earlier.
A widened Harbor View Road is designed to make travel safer and more convenient for drivers, and make pedestrians and bicyclists safe while using the road.
Now the county should look for a way to improve the way it communicates with the public.
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