MOUNT PLEASANT -- The morning after his decisive victory, Mayor-elect Billy Swails said that his top priority is widening 2.5 miles of U.S. Highway 17 from the Isle of Palms connector to S.C. Highway 41.
"I want to start it now," Swails said Wednesday. The town has $14 million for the project in the bank. Work will definitely begin by the first of the year, he said.
U.S. 17 will be widened from four to six lanes to relieve the growing traffic congestion during rush hour. It is expected to take 18 months to get the job done, Swails said.
Swails wants to continue the U.S. 17 widening for another 2.5 miles from S.C. 41 to Darrell Creek Trail. The $14 million needed for that part of the project is not yet in hand. He will contact U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., for help with funding. "We're going to go visit with those folks," Swails said.
In afternoon rush hour, northbound traffic on U.S. 17 is often stalled halfway up the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge as commuters make their way home. "Our citizens deserve better than sitting in traffic," Swails said.
Swails, a State Farm insurance agent, on Tuesday won a three-way race for a four-year term as mayor. He competed against fellow Councilmen Joe Bustos and Gary Santos, and was elected with about 45 percent of the vote.
Swails and four new council members will be sworn in at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Town Hall. The new council representatives are Linda Page, John Burn, Elton Carrier and Dr. Craig Rhyne. Page was the top vote-getter in the council election that included 19 candidates. She owns Page's Thieves Market and Page's Okra Grill and is president of the South Carolina Auctioneers Association. Burn owns Hughes Equipment Rental and Party Rental. Carrier is a retired senior vice president with First Federal of Charleston. Rhyne is an oral surgeon.
The election drew 29.5 percent of 44,607 registered voters to the polls, said Marilyn Bowers, director of the Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration. However, about 90 percent of the town's eligible voters, those 18 and older, are registered, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
On Tuesday, Chief Municipal Judge David Michel will swear in Swails, who in turn will administer the oath of office to the new council members. The current council members are Ken Glasson, Nick Collins, Thomasena Stokes-Marshall and Paul Gawrych, all of whom endorsed Swails' candidacy.
Swails said he will meet with the council members and Town Administrator Mac Burdette on Monday to determine new committee assignments. Most of the town business is done in committees and then referred to the council for final approval.