Editorial: Seek State aid for Crosstown

Charleston has a flooding problem on the Crosstown that will cost $146 million to fix. It is generally agreed that the project needs to be done, but there isn’t the money to do so.

Charleston has another project, the extension of Interstate 526 across Johns and James islands, that has been awarded $420 million by the State Infrastructure Bank.

But plans for that project were generally rejected by the public in hearings last year, and there appears little likelihood that County Council will back a proposal with virtually no support. Council’s endorsement is essential for the project to go forward.

Local officials should explore the possibility of aid from the Infrastructure Bank. Maybe the SIB could be convinced to shift a portion of the allocation from the I-526 project, which has little public support, to one for which there is plenty.

While the Infrastructure Bank primarily funds roads and bridges, drainage systems are typically part of those projects.

In one respect, the drainage improvements will get under way using a $10 million federal grant for landscaping improvements along the Crosstown. It also will pay for the installation of about 5,500 feet of storm drains.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley insists that the federal government should pay for most of the Crosstown drainage project. But that may be an unlikely prospect, given the long-standing need and the tepid federal response.

More likely, the project will require more funding support from the state and local government as well as federal aid. A concerted effort was required to complete the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which like the Crosstown is part of U.S. 17. Indeed, most of that money came from the State Infrastructure Bank.

In any event, it would be hard to task the federal government for all the problems created by the Crosstown. After all, the city of Charleston and its business community enthusiastically sought the project, which was built from 1966-69 as a way to expedite east-west traffic flow across the peninsula. The road generally does that — except when rains inundate it. Then the street floods — and so do cars, some terminally.

Nearby, residents are weary of decades of flooding along the street.

Maybe the SIB board wouldn’t even consider the idea of funding the project, though it’s hard to know until the case is made.

A shift in state funding designated for I-526 could resolve a long-standing problem on the Crosstown, and leave enough money to tackle some of the most pressing transportation problems on Johns and James islands, absent the disputed parkway proposal. Or elsewhere. For example, road improvements also are needed to accommodate the Boeing plant.

Mayor Riley contends that the current allocation for I-526 can only be used for that project and will be lost to the area if the project doesn’t go forward.

A state Department of Transportation official tells us, however, that the bank board once approved a shift in funding for a York County project, though of a much smaller scale than would be required in this instance. Still, it demonstrates some flexibility by the SIB.

The Crosstown is a demonstrably needed project that the city can’t get done on its own. The city should seek state as well as federal support, and give the long-needed project its highest priority.

Post and Courier

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