SUMMERVILLE — Mark Pilgrim took a deep breath when Dorchester County Council members asked the question: When will work get going on the Berlin Myers Parkway?
Pilgrim is the Dorchester County Penny Sales Tax Transportation Authority vice chairman. The extension is the albatross that has hung around the authority’s neck for seven years, and any transportation improvements in the Summerville area for more than 15 years.
“Only two entities know — God and the Army Corps of Engineers, and the corps ain’t talking,” he said to laughter last week.
Well, the corps is talking weekly — with the S.C. Department of Transportation and town of Summerville engineers — trying to resolve wetlands and drainage issues with the extension’s route along Sawmill Branch Canal, the town’s chief drainage.
They have agreed on hydrology modeling, essentially how to make sure the canal keeps draining well after the parkway is built. Now they have to agree on a technical design to do that. The design then has to be submitted to the Army Corps to be approved in an exhaustive permitting process.
Bottom line: “We’re still easily two years away from any kind of construction, and that would be the absolute best-case scenario,” said John Wilson, DOT program manager. If the design approved requires improvements to the canal be made first, it would be even longer.
The question to Pilgrim last week wasn’t unexpected. He was there to update the council on the status of road projects, particularly the snagged Dorchester Road work that The Post and Courier reported on Sunday.
With each passing year, and with nearly all the authority’s other 21 projects completed or underway, the irony of the unfinished Myers Parkway keeps getting heavier.
The delayed, stalled and stymied parkway extension was the project that goaded voters in 2006 into approving the penny sales tax for transportation improvements. The 2-mile-long planned route from Carolina Avenue to U.S. 17A south of town took 10 years to get from the planning table to its expected start that year, only to be stopped partly by the permit issues that continue to haunt it.
The overall parkway, a 3-mile bypass connecting U.S. 17A north and south of downtown Summerville, was conceived in the late 1960s as a bypass and an emergency route over railroad tracks.
It became the pivotal need — the key to getting the best results from other projects — in a long list of traffic improvements in the 1990s, as growth began jamming the town. Summerville and surrounding neighborhoods are now twice as populated as they were then.
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