Road plan moves forward

Road improvements are desperately needed before Boeing's new assembly plant opens next year, bringing nearly 4,000 new employees to North Charleston.

Charleston County Council on Thursday approved the initial steps of a plan to pay for the improvements, which will ease the heavy traffic congestion around Boeing's operation near the Charleston International Airport.

The $155 million plan, which council members approved unanimously, depends on the county being able to land a grant from the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank to cover most of the cost, Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said.

Councilman Elliott Summey, who chairs the economic development committee, said the county is seeking $150 million from the Infrastructure Bank, even though it has no grant money available right now. He thinks that could change in the near future. For now, he said, "We need to get on their radar screen."

The county will not agree to a loan from the Infrastructure Bank that would require payments from county taxpayers, Summey said.

Pryor said the county continues to look for other sources of money for road improvements.

The 13-year-old Infrastructure Bank takes in most of its revenue from gas taxes and license renewals for commercial and personal vehicles. Most of that money is used to pay back bonds issued for various road improvement projects.

Council members also agreed to spend $5 million from the county's half-cent sales tax on simple intersection improvements near the Boeing site.

Already, vehicles crawl along International Boulevard, Dorchester Road and South Aviation Avenue during peak travel times. A recent traffic study showed parts of Dorchester, International and Michaux Parkway failing completely by 2020.

Traffic engineers have proposed several changes, which includes making South Aviation a four-lane road and extending it to Ashley Phosphate Road.

Additionally, they suggested building a pass-through road to Dorchester that would replace Michaux. It would start at the interchange of Interstate 526 and West Montague Avenue.

In other county business:

--Council gave final approval to a plan to buy five properties that amount to less than an acre of beachfront property on Folly Beach for $2.8 million. The County Park and Recreation Commission will use money from its share of the half-cent sales tax to buy the land, and plans to transform it into a beach park.

--The top-bidder on the Sheppard Tract, a 758-acre property the county owns near Adams Run, has pulled out of the deal because of deed restrictions, Pryor said. Hunting Tract I LLC had bid $2.7 million for the property. The county purchased the property in 1992, and once planned to use it for a landfill. The county put the land up for sale in December to assure people it was no longer planning to build a municipal solid waste landfill there.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or