Editorial: I-526 ‘parkway’ a non-starter

In last year’s hearings on the I-526 extension, there was virtually no public support for the “parkway” proposal submitted by the state Department of Transportation. There is no good reason to pursue construction of the project as planned — assuming that the DOT has a responsibility to listen to the public.

But the DOT has said that the county has to accept that plan or take the option of not building the project. And Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. insists that it is essential to pursue the project as designed.

So what was the reason for the public hearings? Applause?

In five hearings, residents spoke by a more than 2-to-1 margin against building I-526 across Johns Island, linking the James Island Connector and Savannah Highway.

And more of those who favored completing the beltway opted for the original high-speed, elevated expressway. Hundreds attended the hearings.

The parkway proposal would include two new bridges across the Stono River, and six intersections on Johns and James islands. Vehicle speed would be limited to 35 to 45 mph on the four-lane highway.

The town of James Island is on record as opposing that plan, and state law gives it veto power over a project that goes through its jurisdiction.

Maybe the legal impediment will go away if the state Supreme Court rules against its incorporation in a case scheduled for a hearing this week. In any event, the town’s opposition assuredly reflects public sentiment on James Island.

Charleston County Council had requested DOT approval of a revised plan to build the expressway from West Ashley to Johns Island only, and to widen a portion of scenic River Road. The DOT has rejected that proposal. There’s been no groundswell of public support for council’s plan either, as Councilman Dickie Schweers observed in our Sunday news report.

Initially the expressway extension was expected to have a single interchange on each island. Under the parkway plan there would be two interchanges on Johns Island and four on James Island.

Critics of the current DOT proposal have expressed alarm that the additional intersections would be an incentive for new development. They’re right.

Even outgoing state Transportation Secretary H.B. “Buck” Limehouse has questioned that aspect of the plan: “What’s the point of building a road to relieve congestion when you are encouraging development?”

In his State of the City address last week, Mayor Riley declared that building the extension as now planned is “very important for the future livability and transportation safety of our community.”

County Council member Colleen Condon presented a contrasting view in comments quoted in our Sunday news story: “It is clear that very few people believe this is the highest priority project in Charleston County. Either improvements in the I-26 Boeing corridor roads, or light rail, would provide so much more value and truly be projects of statewide significance.”

Ms. Condon said she welcomes the opportunity for a council vote on the state’s parkway proposal for I-526.

So should local residents, if only to eliminate an unpopular option from future consideration.

Post and Courier

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