Commuter rail could work here if folks will get on board

Dana Beach says it’s time for Charleston to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

The Coastal Conservation League executive director says the community needs to quit throwing up roads with the promise that you’ll get from Kiawah to Costco 10 minutes quicker “and there won’t be anyone else on the road.”

It’s time to think about the big picture.

This is all by way of saying the league is working to stop the Lowcountry from making a half-billion dollar mistake.

They say stretching the Mark Clark Expressway from West Ashley across Johns Island and hooking it to the James Island connector will do nothing to alleviate the Lowcountry’s wretched traffic problems — and they are probably right. Check out their artist’s rendering of what the intersection of Folly Road and the Mark Clark would look like (at right). Makes the Vegas strip look environmentally palatable.

A better idea, they say, is a light rail system running along the Interstate 26 corridor. And the money currently held for the Mark Clark could make that possible.

This is a real chore they’ve taken on, trying to drag Charleston into the 21st century.

Especially since many of us are still stuck in the 19th.

No consensus

There are plenty of folks who agree with the league’s opposition to the bypass, but for various reasons.

To fund the extension, South Carolina would have to wipe out the Infrastructure Bank (like we need another one of those to bail out) and then we’d still be $70 million short.

A lot of people don’t want to spend money on anything these days, much less a road we’ve been getting along without for decades.

And, of course, the amended plan for a low-speed parkway across James Island has only divided the road’s supporters. A lot of people want a real interstate — which means driving 65 mph (wink wink) — instead of sitting at traffic signals.

That rendering is not a scare tactic. The league’s Josh Martin says it’s based on the number of lanes needed per DOT traffic counts. Your first question might be: Where are the trees?

Well, as they say, that’s progress.

But not everyone is so sure the Mark Clark is the kind of progress they want. At the first couple of public hearings on the Mark Clark extension, there wasn’t much support for the new compromise. Tonight the third one will be held at West Ashley High School (6 p.m.), and the odds of consensus breaking out are longer than your shot at winning the Powerball.

A nostalgic pitch?

The folks at the Coastal Conservation League believe the money set aside for the Mark Clark could perhaps be used to leverage a grant that would pay for a rail system running along the interstate corridor — you know, where a good percentage of locals live or work, where Boeing is coming in.

If you want a safe bet, a train would certainly ease traffic.

But it also would be a much different kind of commuter traffic than this Southern city is accustomed to. This, after all, is a place where folks love their cars nearly as much as they love their guns. What makes the league think it can sell this?

Well, part of it is peer pressure. Charlotte is using light rail, Savannah is bringing back fixed-rail trolleys.

Maybe they could pitch it with nostalgia. Charleston used to have trolleys and did pretty well with them.

You know, almost back in the 19th century.

Beach says people are probably more receptive to a rail system now than at any time in the past, but “they haven’t bought it yet.”

But that’s not a deal-breaker. They haven’t bought into this Mark Clark extension yet, either.

By Brian Hicks
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
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