MOUNT PLEASANT -- The pace of the town's road-building program is forcing Waterworks to consider a second rate hike in less than a year, the utility said Friday.
Unless it adds another $4 to monthly utility bills, Waterworks said it can't afford $5 million to relocate water and sewer lines on U.S. Highway 17, which is being widened to six lanes.
"Our customers have to bear that cost 100 percent," said Clay Duffie, Waterworks general manager.
The utility in January raised basic water and sewer rates 9 percent, which added $4 to the bill of a typical residential customer. It cited the economic downturn and resulting lower revenues because of empty foreclosed homes and nonexistent growth as factors.
Waterworks commissioners will consider whether to raise rates on Monday at a budget hearing. The new fiscal year begins July 1. The rate hike would be rescinded after the utility recovers the $5 million cost of line relocation. If approved, it would be in effect for three years, Duffie said.
"The commissioners are in a difficult position," he said.
Town Deputy Administrator Eric DeMoura said the Waterworks water and sewer lines are in the public right of way. "While we understand the situation that Mount Pleasant Waterworks is facing, we are in no position to assist them with the relocation expenses," DeMoura said.
Charleston County Council recently approved a contract for the largest road project in the county's half-cent transportation tax program -- an $84 million remake of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard and its frontage roads. It is one of four major road-widening road projects planned in the town on U.S. Highway 17. When finished, the road will be six lanes from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to near Wando High School.
Waterworks Commission Vice Chairman Rick Crosby said the utility asked the town and the state Department of Transportation for help with the cost of the water and sewer line relocations. The utility was told assistance was not available, he said.
"We can't pull that kind of money out of thin air," Crosby said.
In recent years, Waterworks has absorbed an estimated $5 million in water and sewer line relocation costs because of road work. This situation is different because of the scope of the project and the accelerated schedule, he said.
"It hasn't hit us all at one time like this project," he said.
The road work on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard should begin later this year after final design plans are approved. It will widen U.S. 17 from four lanes to six lanes and include improvements to intersections and frontage roads.
Rush-hour traffic on U.S. 17 near the Ravenel Bridge often moves at a crawl. At other times of the day, the highway remains congested. Commuters fill the road because many residents live in the northern part of town in giant developments such as Park West.
Last year, some Town Council members expressed frustration over the slow pace of the Johnnie Dodds Boulevard project and met with the county to try to speed things up. Because of the growing traffic problems on U.S. 17, the town suggested that it take over the project to provide some near-term relief. Some 45,000 commuters travel U.S. 17 daily. Daily traffic is expected to grow to 70,000 by 2030.