Johns Island residents also turn out big for I-526 hearing

Johns Island -- The proposed $489 million four-lane parkway over Johns and James islands should be scrapped and the money spent instead on improvements to U.S. Highway 17, Interstate 26 and Calhoun Street, opponents argued tonight.

At the final of five public hearings on the project, more than 300 people stood when asked if they opposed it, which was almost everybody in the audience at the St. Johns High School auditorium.

Three people spoke in favor of the parkway at the beginning of the hearing. They cited improved hurricane evacuation, better traffic flow, potential economic development and easier access to hospitals as some reasons to support it.

"We need a plan folks. We can't just say 'No, no, no,' " said Bill Holtz.

A stream of speakers followed who criticized the project for reasons ranging from destruction of the character of the islands to wasting tax money for a project that will reduce estimated travel times by only two minutes.

"I am completely and utterly opposed to this project in any form," said Paul Cantrell of James Island. Cantrell said it took him about 20 minutes to drive from downtown Charleston to the high school on Johns Island, which he said was reasonable.

"We should build nothing and fix the roads we have," he said.

The eight-mile parkway would begin at Folly Road and the James Island Connector and run across James and Johns islands. Five miles of the highway would be bridges, including two 80-foot-tall spans over the Stono River. It would end at the intersection of U.S. 17 and the Interstate 526.

Along the way, it would intersect with scenic Riverland Drive, brush up against the northern boundary of James Island County Park, fill 17 acres of wetlands and require the relocation of 22 homes and four businesses. There would be stoplights at Riverland Drive and at each of two new connectors to River Road.

Read more in tomorrow's Post and Courier.