Help work toward better transportation in the lowcountry!

In April, County Council rejected the I-526 extension:

6-0 with a vote against alternative G. (SCDOT’s preferred alternative)

5-3 for ‘no build’ with a request that the funds be used to improve existing roads, not build more highways.

Next,  the SIB board has asked the County to reimburse the state for the money spent thus far.  We believe the County operated within their right and chose the ‘no build’ option.  This has always been a choice that they could have made and they should not be punished for following the process and choosing this option.

County Council rescinded their no-build vote to avoid rumored default with the SIB and the project has not been discussed in public since.  The SIB’s failure to recognize the County’s opposition to the project is a statewide issue: our transportation infrastructure bank was created to fund projects of statewide significance across the state.  I-526 does not solve traffic problems, doe not yet have its permits (in fact 4 regulatory agencies recommended denying the permits), is met with local opposition and is at least $70 million dollars over budget.  Charleston County taxpayers would be responsible for this overrun.  Yet, the SIB continues to pledge money to this project!

Contact the SIB and state elected officials today and tell them that you are opposed to the I-526 extension.  You count on them for leadership and expect them to focus on statewide priorities and not political projects.

Contact County Council and tell them you support their opposition to the project and encourage them to remain opposed to this harmful, expensive and ineffective road project.  There are better ways to spend our time and money.

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P&C: James Island frustrated by indecision

James Island residents frustrated by indecision on Mark Clark completion

dknich@postandcourier.com

Sunday, November 27, 2011

JAMES ISLAND — Graham Finch and Phyllis Hanniford live in the path of the proposed extension of Interstate 526 and hoped soon to march out of financial limbo.

But Charleston County Council last week voted against forwarding to the state Department of Transportation the couple’s application for a hardship property acquisition.
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State: I-526 affecting flood control project

I-526 dispute affecting flood control project

By SAMMY FRETWELL The State
<http://www.thestate.com/2011/10/06/1998755/i-526-dispute-affecting-flood.html#disqus_thread>

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley urged a state board Wednesday to spend $88 million to help the city solve flooding problems that plague the historic downtown after heavy rains.
But money that could be used for the drainage project is tied up in another Charleston project that many people oppose. The state Transportation Infrastructure Bank board has already committed $420 million for the extension of Interstate 526 and board members say they have relatively little money for other projects around the state.
Many I-526 opponents say Infrastructure Bank money could be used for other road work in South Carolina, including the U.S. 17 drainage project unveiled Wednesday at a meeting in Columbia.

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Gullah Heritage Panel Opposes Finishing I-526

Gullah heritage panel opposes finishing 526
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The commission working to protect the culture of slave descendants on South Carolina’s sea islands opposes completing Interstate 526.

The federal Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission released a letter Monday it sent last month to Charleston County Council. In the letter, commission chairman Emory Campbell said completing the interstate through Charleston’s western suburbs would devastate an already threatened Gullah-Geechee culture.

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/oct/04/local/

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P&C: The I-526 project: Behind-the-scenes talks as murky as future of extension

The I-526 project: Behind-the-scenes talks as murky as future of extension
BY PRENTISS FINDLAY
Monday, July 4, 2011

The future of Interstate 526 on James and Johns islands is as clear as pluff mud as supporters and opponents continue to battle over the decades-old project.

After five public hearings and a voluminous environmental study, the issue remains whether to construct the $489 million, seven-mile highway.
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P&C: Ruling raises 526 question

Ruling raises I-526 question
BY ROBERT BEHRE , PRENTISS FINDLAY
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/jun/21/ruling-raises-i-526-question/

The looming end to the town of James Island adds another new twist to the decades-old story of building Interstate 526 across James and Johns islands.

Under state law, Town Council could block the project, and it had voted against it.
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Councilmember Darby: Why I oppose the 526 project

Why I oppose the I-526 project
BY HENRY E. DARBY
Thursday, June 9, 2011
In recent weeks, the completion of I-526 has again become a major issue. There are two camps diametrically opposed to each other — one in favor of completing the project, the other fast against it.

Metaphorically, Charleston County is tied between two headstrong horses, each pulling in opposite directions. Each camp has its champions and followers. Those opposing are led by the Coastal Conservation League with strong support from many Johns and James Island residents and several County Council members.

Support for the project is led by the mayors of the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, State Reps. Limehouse and Harrell, the S.C. Department of Transportation, and are joined by several County Council members and many residents of the County. But how many residents support or oppose the project remains conjectural and perhaps is the most contentious part of the issue.

As both a citizen of the county and a council member, I have dwelt long over the issue of the extension and listened to the views of residents and others. Opinion and reason seem to weigh heavier in opposition to the extension; and accordingly, I have voted against it. But there have been other influences.

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Letter to the editor

Pressing need

Extortion! That is what the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) Board is attempting to commit when they are demanding $11.6 million from Charleston County.

The county rightly listened to the opposition to the I-526 extension and determined that it should not commit to spending nearly a half billion dollars on a project that was not publicly supported.

Additionally, there is a shortfall of nearly $70 million that will have to be made up from somewhere if the project proceeds as planned; this is very important as South Carolina struggles with budget issues.

The SIB board will be able to serve the public better by using the funds on other needy projects, save the $70 million debt that the project would incur, and follow the public’s mandate — if it quits acting like a thug and moves on to other pressing state needs.

Steve Strieter

South Shore Drive

Charleston

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P&C editorial: Don’t keep public in the dark

Don’t keep public in the dark
Friday, May 20, 2011

Too bad Charleston County Council decided to revive the I-526 issue, considering the project’s numerous flaws and the broad public opposition to it, stated in five heavily-attended public hearings last year.
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Infrastructure Bank takes wrong road with payback threat

Charleston County Council, once a champion of the S.C. Department of Transportation’s DOT plan for extending the Mark Clark Expressway, has officially voted against the project. The move was 100 percent justified, as council rightly considered citizens’ overwhelming opposition to the project as well as the studies revealing the meager transportation benefits of extending the highway compared to the project’s exorbitant cost — over $489 million.

Now, proponents of the highway are trying to force open the issue by claiming the county is in breach of its agreement with the DOT and the State Infrastructure Bank to fund a portion of the project. State Sen. Glenn McConnell was quoted in this paper as saying: “You can’t make a decision to do it and then make a decision not to do it.”

But, in fact, that is precisely what federal law allows communities to do.

Any proposal to build a major highway project like the Mark Clark must first be evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of America’s fundamental environmental laws, enacted some 40 years ago.

Among other things, the law requires that potential alternatives for proposed projects be thoroughly explored, including a “no-action” alternative. NEPA does not compel a particular outcome; rather, its purpose is to unearth all of the facts so that the public and decision-makers can make an informed choice.

A principal feature of the law gives project sponsors, after careful study and public input, the opportunity to amend their proposals or to reverse course altogether.

During the NEPA process for the Mark Clark Extension, citizens came out in force at five local public hearings to oppose DOT’s plan. In addition, the draft environmental studies showed that the project would yield little transportation benefit — reducing the average drive time by less than a minute for drivers in West Ashley and on James Island, and just 4.6 minutes for drivers on Johns Island. All of this for a whopping $489 million price tag, leaving the county responsible for coming up with an additional $69 million beyond what it had already committed.

The county rightly asked DOT to take a harder look at alternatives that were dismissed early in the process and also consider newly proposed alternatives. When DOT refused, County Council rejected the Mark Clark Extension as proposed.

Those who argue that Charleston County now owes the bank $11.6 million to repay what’s been spent on the project so far are on the wrong side of the law.

They claim that when the county entered into the agreement with the bank and the DOT in 2007 (before the initiation of the NEPA studies), the county was committing to build the project no matter what the studies concluded. Such a claim undermines federal law; the NEPA process cannot be treated as simply a box to check off in pursuit of constructing a highway.

An examination of the agreement shows that the county is on firm legal ground. In addition to complying with NEPA, the extension of a highway requires the consent of all municipalities in the highway’s path, plus various state and federal permits.

James Island Town Council has passed two resolutions rejecting construction of the extension through their town, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended denial of a necessary wetlands permit. The county clearly is not responsible for the actions of either.

The agreement does not specify what happens if the approvals are not secured. When a contract is silent or ambiguous, South Carolina law favors an interpretation in accordance with reason, justice, and public policy.

Trying to exact $11.6 million from the county for a decision that ultimately saves the county and the state almost half-a-billion dollars would undermine sound principles of public policy. It would penalize the county for actions taken by other governmental bodies and would treat the NEPA process as a sham, establishing a dangerous precedent for poor decision-making on projects of significant public importance.

Citizens of Charleston County, and all South Carolinians, should applaud council members for reaching a reasoned and just decision that will avoid wasting scarce taxpayer money on a project that would cause significant environmental harm yet fail to solve traffic problems.

There are more cost-effective ways to solve our transportation challenges and the bank, rather than threatening local citizens, should instead help our community by funding worthy local projects.

Chris DeScherer is the head of the Coast & Wetlands Project of the Southern Environmental Law Center, based in Charleston.

Post and Courier

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Reduced version of I-526 readied: County Council to get plan taking road to Johns Island

Reduced version of I-526 readied: County Council to get plan taking road to Johns Island

A scaled-down $200 million version of Interstate 526 that ends on Johns Island will be presented today to Charleston County Council.

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor developed the new expressway plan as a way to resolve the county being in default on an $11.6 million loan that the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank decided on Thursday had to be paid back in 60 days.

Last month, a majority of council chose the “no-build” option for the $489 million expressway extension across Johns and James islands. The $11.6 million was spent on environmental studies, engineering and right-of-way acquisition.

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