Move forward with a flyover

Cars leaving Johns Island use the middle lane on Main Road between Highway 17 and the Limehouse bridge Wednesday September 2, 2015. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

The flooding that caused traffic problems on Johns Island, James Island and in West Ashley last week has brought a spate of renewed calls for the completion of I-526. That’s easier said than done, considering the opposition to and the funding problems for that controversial project.

Better that the traffic backups endured last week serve to encourage improvements to the existing infrastructure at and around Main Road and U.S. 17, where the main problem occurred. Fixing the existing infrastructure actually could be done in the near term.

To that end, Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey will urge council on Thursday to proceed with the necessary engineering work for a highway flyover at U.S. 17 and Main Road. Reviewing nearby drainage problems, and providing a solution for them, would be part of the plan.

Advancing Mr. Summey’s proposal would require the county to abandon the state Department of Transportation’s so-called “superstreet” design for the intersection. That proposal would prevent motorists on Main Road from making a left turn onto U.S. 17. Instead, motorists would first turn right on the highway, and after a short distance, make a U-turn to reverse their direction.

No great loss there.

Presumably, the $3.5 million in local and state money allocated for the “superstreet” project could be applied to the cost of the flyover.

Mr. Summey says that the overpass on Mount Pleasant’s Johnnie Dodds Boulevard at Bowman Road should be the model for the project, to ensure improved traffic flow.

Council should support the project. The flyover should also have the backing of state and federal transportation officials, particularly in regard to the extra funding that will be needed for its construction.

The prospects for completing a flyover should be far better than those for completing I-526, which faces major permitting hurdles, strong public opposition and a funding shortfall of more than $150 million.

Mr. Summey’s plan recalls a 2012 effort by County Council to use I-526 funds for other traffic improvement projects, including the interchange at Main Road and U.S. 17.

That proposal was rejected by the State Infrastructure Bank, which instead said the county would have to repay the SIB $11 million if it decided not to go forward on I-526.

Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, says Mr. Summey’s plan is responsive to existing problems on Johns Island. “We need money for this kind of project,” he said, adding that the improvements “will prove we don’t need I-526.”

At the least, Mr. Summey’s proposal offers the promise of addressing a major problem in the near term.

And it’s a better solution than those the state has offered.