Commentary: Solution for Septima Clark Parkway is long overdue

No resident of, or visitor to, our fine city who has traversed the Septima Clark Parkway during a period of high tides and heavy rains will ever forget the experience. Flooding along the roadway is severe, putting motorists at serious risk and depriving home and business owners, churches and schools in the area the use of their property.

In the last 15 years the Charleston area has seen great progress in building and upgrading our roads and infrastructure in an effort to keep up with explosive growth across the region.

The Mark Clark Expressway was built, a new and beautiful bridge now links the peninsula with Mount Pleasant.

Yet still, a simple rainstorm makes one of our city’s most critical arteries impassable.

For his part, Mayor Riley has pledged that if re-elected he will address the issue. I take the mayor at his word; still I wonder why in his 34 years of service he has not managed to fix the problem.

In 1984 the City of Charleston charged Davis & Floyd Inc., consulting engineers, with developing a plan to address storm water drainage problems within the city, including the Crosstown, now known as the Septima Clark Parkway.

The resulting Flood Plain Master Plan with periodic updates is still in use today. Davis & Floyd listed the Spring Street and Fishburne Street watersheds among the top five priorities to improve drainage and alleviate flooding on the Parkway and surrounding neighborhoods. Twenty-seven years later, no such work has been completed.

Had these peninsula priorities been undertaken in a timely manner, the cost would have been but a fraction of today’s price tag of $142 million.

While the current administration has chosen to pass the buck, asserting that fixing the flooding is a federal responsibility, I believe it is high time the City of Charleston steps up to the plate and take care of and respect its own.

Instead of spending $10 million to install traffic cams, and to add a decorative median, new curbs and sidewalks (all of which will certainly serve to beautify the neighborhood … when it’s not covered with water), our limited resources should be applied to solving the essential problem of road and property drainage.

Just like families and businesses, government is faced with shrinking revenues and the challenge of doing more with less.

The City of Charleston has an obligation to solve this problem immediately, even if it requires some creative problem-solving. Drivers, residents and business owners in the area have been more than patient.

To expedite the completion of the Septima Clark Transportation Improvement Project, I suggest earmarking a portion of the proceeds from the city’s $16 million sale of the Concord project, do what’s necessary to increase city revenue by charging Carnival a per passenger fee for an estimated $1 million annually, and leverage the proceeds into a Revenue Bond providing additional dollars for the project; request the State Infrastructure Bank reallocate dollars, as suggested in a recent Post and Courier editorial, and urge the Bank to shift a portion of the $420 million dollar allocation for the unpopular I-526 extension to the Septima Clark Transportation Improvement Project, one that will immediately improve the lives of Charlestonians.

On March 15, 2011, I sent a letter to the chairman of the SIB (State Infrastructure Bank) asking the following questions:

Given the current hold on Bank funds with the I-526 project, what is the required statutory process to introduce this project to the Bank?

If the city submitted an application for the Septima Clark Parkway improvements, would the I-526 application be impacted?

How would this project rank when compared to other qualified projects?

I believe this is an important transportation project for the City of Charleston, if not the most important. The failing road has plagued the city for decades.

The time for action is now.

William Dudley Gregorie represents District 6 on Charleston City Council.

Post and Courier

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