Crosstown 'will be fixed'

Medians now are being installed on the Crosstown, a precursor of bigger work to come.

The final financial piece to the Septima P. Clark Parkway drainage puzzle fell into place Thursday.

The State Infrastructure Bank unanimously approved Charleston's $88 million application to complete a new drainage system underneath U.S. Highway 17 as it cuts across the peninsular city -- a stretch of highway commonly called the Crosstown.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who was criticized repeatedly during last year's mayoral race for being too slow to solve the road's long-standing flooding problem, trumpeted the news just hours after the bank's vote in Columbia.

"It will be fixed," Riley said. "The challenge of worrying about getting safely through the Crosstown when it rains eventually will be history."

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, and a bank board member, made the motion.

"Of course, being a native of Charleston, I've been in the flooding firsthand for years," Limehouse said. "This project has been a long time in the making. I congratulate Mayor Riley and the city for doing a good job with the application. That's what the State Infrastructure Bank board is all about."

The bank rated the project a 92 on a scale of 100 in terms of its approach, financial plan and public benefit.

Riley noted that the Crosstown was built over a former creek bed during the 1960s, and it never had an adequate drainage system. The city had struggled with the problem for years, daunted by the project's enormous price tag as well as serious drainage problems in other city neighborhoods.

But once the pieces began coming together, it happened quickly.

In September 2010, Riley went to Washington to secure a $10 million stimulus grant that paid for the new curbs and gutters currently being installed.

In December, the S.C. Department of Transportation approved $12.5 million more in federal funds, which the city will match with $12.5 million of its own money, to continue curb and gutter work along Spring and Cannon streets.

Thursday's vote put the final piece in place. That work involves a network of deep shafts and tunnels more than 130 feet underground that will connect to a new pump station on the Ashley River -- a station capable of removing hundreds of thousands of gallons of rainwater a minute.

Riley said the project remains on course to be done in 2020, or four years after he expects to leave office.

The city is contributing more than $30 million, but residents won't see their property taxes rise directly as a result. About $29.5 million of the city's share will come from increased property tax collections around the Gaillard Auditorium.

Riley noted that bank board members toured the Crosstown and heard from Dirk Bedford, principal of Mitchell Elementary School, which sits just off the highway.

"(Bedford) talked about how children either wouldn't be able to get to school because they couldn't wade through the water or they would come to school soaking wet," Riley said.

The Crosstown is just one drainage problem the city is working on.

Riley said City Council is expected to consider a drainage revenue bond in March to help pay for a similar deep-tunnel system under the Market Street area, drainage improvements in the Forest Acres-Playground Road area, engineering work to solve the frequent flooding in the west Calhoun Street area, and smaller projects.