If there is, as the state claims, a $350 million funding shortage to build I-526, a toll would be a fair and effective way of financing it. With a rapidly growing population, a car culture (whether we like it or not) and lack of efficient alternative routes, a toll road presents a good option.
The environmental lobby wants to pretend that building a toll road over a marsh in the Lowcountry is uncharted and dangerous territory. The fact is, we need only look to our neighbor Hilton Head to see how a toll road can work. Hilton Head built the Cross Island Parkway in 1998 at an inflation-adjusted cost of $122 million. And people are using it.
The finances for the Cross Island Parkway have been remarkable. The road is running a $2.4 million budget surplus and it’s raking in $7.6 million per year. Things have gone so well that the road is scheduled to be paid off completely in five years, at which point the toll is likely to be removed.
While the supposed funding shortfall for I-526 is three times larger than the cost to build the Cross Island Parkway, the population the road would serve in Charleston is also three times larger. Three times the cost, with three times revenue potential, means both are equally affordable.
Would people accept a toll on the new stretch of I-526? Absolutely nobody would be required to pay a toll. If someone wants to take the longer, slower and more trafficked route, Savannah Highway will still be there. For people who would like to get home from work before dark, with I-526 they’ll have a route too.
As a Johns Island commuter, I would gladly pay a toll for I-526. Between extra mileage, car wear and gas costs commuting to North Charleston, not having I-526 costs me about $800 per year. Any yearly toll amount less than that is actively saving me money.
Politicians opposed to I-526 say that putting a toll on I-526 would be a “tough sell.” How can charging commuters a dime to save them a quarter be a tough sell? For many residents this road would be a commuter tax cut, not a toll.
We as a community must accept that the power structure in Columbia as it stands will not fork over resources to Charleston, which they view as the long-favored region. Our politicians can point the finger at Columbia all they want for not funding the rest of I-526, but the fact is the Columbia of 2016 couldn’t care less. If we want our traffic fixed, it’s now up to us.
Hilton Head solved its own problem. It proved that a toll road is a viable option to fund a high dollar project in the Lowcountry, and it’s an option that we should pursue here in Charleston for I-526.
Charlestonians for I-526
Jessy Elizabeth Road