I-526 project: ever ‘curiouser’

  • Posted: Saturday, October 19, 2013 11:16 p.m., Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 2:02 p.m.

The state Department of Transportation was expected to have a pivotal meeting on the extension of I-526 last week, to reconsider the intergovernmental agreement that determines who will be responsible for the project, during and after its construction.

In fact, according to our news report, the commission was actually poised to reject the agreement, which would have been a major setback for the controversial project, to say the least.

Instead, the matter was pulled from the commission agenda at the intervention of state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Sen. Grooms said a reversal would be bad policy.

That left those who made the inconvenient trek from Charleston to Greenville to wait at least another month for a vote.

And maybe they should just stay home. The stage reportedly is now set for an agreement allowing Charleston County to manage the project. DOT staffers are expected to consider county management of the project with DOT oversight.

As to that sudden shift, Commissioner Harrison Rearden of Richland County remarked: “I am curious why all of a sudden the DOT is not the one to manage the project. There is something going on in the back room in reference to this intergovernmental agreement.”

It’s just the latest curious development for the road project, which was strongly opposed in five public hearings, but managed to advance nonetheless.

The project was narrowly approved by Charleston County Council last December after Councilmember Anna Johnson submitted an amendment to provide compensation to landowners within 1,000 feet of the project, far beyond what is allowed by the state.

But Council Chairman Teddie Pryor recently said nobody will be getting a check, despite council’s approval of the compensation plan. And an attorney for the DOT said Thursday there’s no precedent for the state paying extra compensation as envisioned by the amendment.

County Council Vice Chairman Elliott Summey told the commission that the extra compensation issue would be the county’s responsibility. Assuming there’s any real plan to pay.

Under parliamentary rules, Ms. Johnson can call for a reconsideration of council vote. But she’s no longer talking about the road plan, which she initially opposed.

Her constituents deserve an explanation. So do those who might have expected to receive compensation.

Considering the various shifts in the I-526 project, it’s reasonable to wonder about the way highway decisions are made in this state.

For example, when a phone call from a legislator apparently can stop the highway commission in its tracks.

Or when a $558 million project can advance without being near the top of the state’s highway priority list.

Or when a project that is roundly rejected in public hearings can continue to move full speed ahead.

Clearly, I-526 is a work in progress, and not merely in terms of planning and pavement, but politics, too.

Commissioner Rearden is right to be mystified about the decision-making process. As Alice in Wonderland might say, it just gets curiouser and curiouser.

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