Back to the drawing board

The state Department of Transportation thought it had a winning plan for the completion of I-526, but it might as well think again. The public repudiated the proposal almost as one during the five public hearings on the proposal during the last two weeks.

DOT’s “parkway” plan to extend the interstate loop was rejected both by those who still want some form of an expressway built and by those who think that transportation dollars could be used to better effect.

We can’t recall a more thorough public repudiation of a local highway project, unless it would be the cross-island toll road to Kiawah recommended for Johns Island in 1996.

The DOT planned to complete the I-526 loop from its present terminus at West Ashley to the James Island Connector, but with a speed limit of 45 mph and additional at-grade intersections on Johns and James islands.

Now it’s back to the drawing board.

It’s a good thing that the DOT decided to expand its public hearings from the two scheduled for peninsula Charleston to include West Ashley, Johns Island and James Island.

That gave highway planners more opportunities to hear from hundreds of residents who would be most affected by the roadway.

DOT planners crafted the expressway plan in response to earlier public sessions in which residents were asked to describe what they wanted. It is difficult to understand how the agency could have been so wide of the mark.

The strong public resistance to the DOT’s plan suggests some flaw in that earlier process. It’s safe to say that the agency should scrap the conclusions it derived from those meetings in 2008 and 2009.

The recent hearings have given the agency more up-to-date and accurate information about what local residents want for the next go-around. One option given limited support would be an extension of a conventional expressway with limited access, as originally planned.

But most of those who spoke generally repudiated the idea of completing I-526 from West Ashley to James Island, even though more than $400 million has been committed to the project.

Presumably, the wave of public opposition to the project will require the DOT to revisit the “no-build” option that it previously rejected. If so, the agency should start looking at other ways the state can use its resources to support improved transportation in West Ashley and on the islands.

Any project this central to our community’s transportation future must have broad public support.

The DOT’s plan clearly does not.

Post and Courier

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