A plan to build an expressway across Johns Island to the resort islands of Kiawah and Seabrook has stalled, at least for now.
In January, the regional Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments released a request for proposals for alternative ways to pay for the road. Members of the group’s transportation committee had said such proposals likely would include a plan for a toll road, because there is no public money available for the limited-access highway. But no companies responded to the request.
Kathryn Basha, the group’s planning director, said she received a few calls from consulting firms inquiring about the cross-island expressway, also known as the “Sea Island Greenway.” But on the Feb. 20 deadline, nobody had submitted a proposal. Basha, who has been with the group since 1997, said she doesn’t recall that happening before.
The COG’s transportation committee voted in June to seek proposals for the road, which proponents have pushed for years, even though it isn’t ranked a state priority and falls 58th out of 71 projects on a regional priority list. But it waited until Charleston County Council made the decision to complete Interstate 526 before putting out the request. I-526 would have an impact on the construction and traffic on the cross-island road, officials have said.
Kiawah Town Councilman Lauren Patch said he thinks the request for proposals was premature, and followed too closely County Council’s December vote to complete I-526.
It’s uncertain when that project, which was approved with a 5-4 vote, will get under way, Patch said. And a private company would want to know that so it can better estimate traffic counts and potential income from tolls, Patch said. “It’s just premature to expect private financing.”
The cross-island road still is important for safety, and strongly supported by residents of Kiawah and Seabrook islands, he said. “So we will have to explore ways to have the project enter the priority stream at the county or state level.”
Johns Island resident Rich Thomas said many of his fellow islanders are opposed to the road because they don’t think it’s necessary. It would divide the island, be harmful to the environment and likely destroy African-American cemeteries in its path. “It’s purely for the benefit of Kiawah business interests,” he said.
Seabrook Mayor Bill Holtz said he also thought the request for proposals was premature. “They should have waited a year or two” after the decision was made to complete I-526, he said. And he really didn’t like the idea of a toll road anyway, he said. “A toll road is a last resort.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.