Back to the Drawing Board

Charleston County Council Finance Committee Explains New Options for I-526

By Charlie Morrison
Staff Writer

Last week Charleston County Council explored new options for the Mark Clark Extention.

Last Thursday’s meeting of Charleston County Council’s Finance Committee offered a new twist to the seemingly never-ending saga of the proposed extension to the Mark Clark Expressway. State transportation secretary Buck Limehouse’s recent prodding of County Council to come to a decision regarding the project provided the backdrop for the meeting, which ultimately saw County Council vote 6-0 to ask the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to revisit the project in light of new developments.

A presentation by SCDOT program manager David Kinard kicked off the discussion, which ultimately ended with Council’s decision not to move forward with the project until all involved take a step back.

The Finance Committee’s unanimous vote, which excluded absent Councilmen Henry Darby, Curtis Inabinett, and Joe McKeown, mandated that County Council ask the DOT staff to further study the project in the light of some new proposed alternatives. The alternatives included improving existing roads within the scope of the project, the ‘New Way to Work’ alternative which features greater use of a grid system in alleviating traffic, and a new proposal put forth by Councilmen Vic Rawl and Elliott Summey that calls for curtailing the project so that the Mark Clark extension concludes at a John’s Island intersection with Maybank Highway, as opposed to the James Island Connector.

Kinard’s long-anticipated presentation was highlighted by the results of a survey of public comments on the project. The proposed project alternative, ‘Alternative G,’ has come under intense public scrutiny of late, scrutiny that was reflected in the public comment summary presented by Kinard. More than 1,600 individuals submitted comments on the plan, 62 percent of which included a statement of opposition to the project. Thirty-two percent of respondents supported the project with six percent of responses offering neither statement or opposition to the plan.

In addition to public comment statistics, Kinard reported that two municipalities, the Towns of James Island and Folly Beach, passed resolutions opposing the extension of the Mark Clark. The City of Charleston, along with the Towns of Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island, offered letters supporting the plan as it then existed.

Amongst the concerns offered by the public detailed in Kinard’s presentation were the potential increased development in the West Ashley, Johns Island and James Island neighborhoods near the location of the proposed extension, the impact of the roadway on the wetlands and marshes in the area, the cost of the project and the bottleneck that would still exist at the intersection of Calhoun Street and Courtney Drive in downtown Charleston, even if the project was completed.

The new proposal offered by Rawl and Summey would feature the extension to the Mark Clark Expressway, linking with Maybank Highway and ultimately River Road on Johns Island. River Road would resultantly be widened all the way to the Betsy Kerrison Parkway, which continues on to Kiawah and Seabrook Islands. Rawl’s plan would cost an estimated $110 million less than ‘Alternative G,’ which carries with it an estimated price tag of $489 million.

The 6-0 vote of the Finance Committee would have to be ratified by the regular County body, which meets Tuesday, October 19 (after press time). An affirmative vote at that meeting will set the new concept into motion, which will necessitate another 12-18 months of research and a new round of public hearings, according to Kinard.

The sticking point to the new plan could be financing. Because the State Infrastructure Bank has pledged $420 million to expressly extend the roadway, the County cannot simply transfer the funds to other projects, even though they address the same problem. Hopes that the money could be re-allocated are just that, hopes.

For more information on the proposed extension to the I-526 Mark Clark Expressway, see SCDOT’s website, at www.scdot.org/i526/default.shtml

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