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The plan to complete Interstate 526 from West Ashley to James Island still has several unanswered questions Monday, July 24, 2017. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

This will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who commutes on or around Johns Island:

  • Traffic on the Maybank Highway bridge has increased by 27 percent in the past nine years.
  • The number of cars crossing the Limehouse Bridge has gone up by 32 percent.
  • Developers currently have permits in-hand to build another 6,900 homes on John Island.

So, that’s where we are. The roads are insanely congested, and the developers keep building. Based on federal transportation statistics, the homes already in the works could put another 22,000 cars on those bridges every day.

Still think it’s a good idea to have only two ways on and off Johns Island?

For years, opponents of extending Interstate 526 to the island have argued it would spark over-development, congestion and ruin the area’s rural nature. Unfortunately, the road’s absence hasn’t slowed that down much.

Now, it’s not only a problem for Johns Islanders, Kiawah and Seabrook residents and workers, it’s seriously adding to traffic woes on James Island and in West Ashley.

County officials are trying once again to jump-start the 526 project, but are getting silence from the state and grief from critics.

This has been debated enough. Perhaps the county needs to put this on the ballot and prove the support is there, or not.

As long as 526 is an option, we won't do anything else to fix this mess.

Sleight of hand

This idea isn’t new.

Two years ago, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg asked for a non-binding referendum to measure support for 526. Which wasn’t unreasonable.

But County Council declined, and chose not to include the highway on a list of projects that would be partially funded through a new half-cent sales tax.

Of course, we shouldn’t have to do that. The State Infrastructure Bank committed $420 million to 526 about a decade ago. For a while, they offered even more — until Charleston lost much of its muscle in the Legislature.

Then, they pulled a slick trick. They delayed, then changed the rules of the game. When the highway’s cost inevitably went up, the Infrastructure Bank said it wouldn’t pay until we showed them the rest of the money.

If that doesn’t make your blood boil, consider this: The county has already spent $120 million improving state roads as a local match for the cash. But in-house bickering gave state officials the cover to rip us off.

After grumbling about lawsuits, the county — for now — is trying to jump through state hoops. Councilman Brantley Moody says he and his colleagues are “excited to re-engage with the SIB and look forward to paving the way for 526.”

Moody represents West Ashley. If you want to know why he cares so much, check out the 526 dead end at Highway 17.

There, thousands of cars are diverted onto the highway for a 20-minute trip to Johns Island that, with the highway, would take ‘em about 20 seconds.

If you’re not mad, you’re not commuting in West Ashley.

Other options?

There is plenty of blame to go around.

Existing zoning in the city and county allowed this development. In the past decade, the city portion of Johns Island has grown from 5,000 residents to 11,000.

Based on projections, it’ll be 20,000 in another 10 years.

You could blame Johns Island landowners, who sold the property that made development possible. But then you get into the government telling people what to do with their own property, which is troublesome.

You can even blame developers, but shouldn’t. They're businessmen — what do you expect them to do, not capitalize on market demand? Not their fault nobody has kept up with infrastructure needs.

Fact is, 526 is not a cure-all. But Johns Island, James Island and West Ashley traffic will only get worse without it. Even building half the road, from West Ashley to Johns Island, would be an improvement.

But the state has had the information requested from the county for a month, and still hasn't done anything. So this is on them.

The county can't do anything until this state business is resolved. In fact, our options are limited.

Public transportation won't fix this because it's hard to make southerners give up their cars for buses, and any other type of mass transit is too expensive.

Fixing existing roads on Johns Island would help there, but does nothing for James Island or West Ashley.

If the county needs more resolve, put the question on the ballot.

Show the state the community is united, we demand what was promised and are sick of sitting in traffic waiting on South Carolina to live up to its obligations.

Otherwise, it's time to sue.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.