Conroy's novel a love note to Charleston

Pat Conroy lives on Fripp Island with his wife Cassandra King, also a writer.

Wade Spees

CHARLESTON - In West Ashley there's been little doubt about the future path of Interstate 526, even as the state considered dozens of alternatives for completing the road from James Island to Johns Island.

The state bought most of the right of way in West Ashley years ago, and many of the nearby homeowners have been aware of the highway plan. But some say they were unaware of the route, and many have questions now that the state has laid out a detailed $489 million proposal for completing I-526, the Mark Clark Expressway.

A series of five public hearings announced Tuesday could answer some of their questions.

"I'm going to attend and see what's transpired," said Rickey Bradley, whose Lynwood Drive house sits on the edge of the highway right of way. Bradley said he only learned the woods behind his house were part of the route when he received a recent S.C. Department of Transportation mailing.

Bradley, who recently retired from the Navy, was busy doing renovations at his home Tuesday, and said he sees no need for extending the highway.

"It won't get me anywhere I want to go faster," he said.

The state has long owned the wooded swath of land south of Savannah Highway that runs across Clayton Drive, between Lynwood Drive and East Shore Lane, and over South Shore Drive toward the Stono River.

It's a path that will take the Mark Clark Expressway behind Bradley's house and nip neighbor Jeff Wagner's back yard. Then it will swoop behind Eric Pujol's home and those of his neighbors on Arlington Drive.

Wagner said he was informed about the road plan a decade ago when he and his wife, Barbara, bought the house.

"When we bought the house they said it would be about three years (until road construction began) and it's been 10 so far," he said.

The Wagners said they aren't opposed to completing the highway but worry about some of the details.

"What I don't want is for it to be elevated," Jeff Wagner said.

On Arlington Drive, a dead-end road like Lynwood Drive, it was peaceful and quiet Tuesday afternoon.

"For the people here, it will depreciate the value of the houses and create more noise," Pujol said. "You ask nine out of 10 people, and they don't know."

The plan to complete the Mark Clark Expressway will affect people living near the path of the road in West Ashley and on Johns and James islands, but the state initially planned to hold public meetings only in downtown Charleston.

Criticism quickly followed.

"People like me, who have been on Johns Island all of our lives, don't have any say in it," activist Bill Saunders said.

On Tuesday, SCDOT announced details for three additional meetings to address those concerns -- one each in West Ashley and on Johns and James islands.

The road plan, officially known as the recommended preferred alternative, differs from past plans to complete the highway. Where earlier plans called for an elevated high-speed expressway from West Ashley to James Island, with an interchange on Johns Island, the chosen alternative calls for a ground-level road wherever possible with a speed limit between 35 and 45 mph, and an adjacent bicycle and pedestrian path.

The plan would connect to two new roads on Johns Island, but not to Maybank Highway as once planned, and would connect to several existing roads on James Island before reaching the James Island connector.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com.