I-526 expansion still not settled: Property owners seek decision as state waits on county

With plans to complete the Mark Clark Expressway still unsettled, an increasing number of property owners in the potential path of the road are anxious for the state to either buy their land or make a firm decision to abandon the project.

State transportation officials say the decision on extending the expressway, Interstate 526, rests with Charleston County, and the state won’t acquire any land until county officials make up their minds.

“They either have to say, we don’t want to go any further with it and we’ll go with ‘no build,’ or we’ll support Alternative G,” S.C. Secretary of Transportation Buck Limehouse said Wednesday.

Alternative G is the controversial, $489 million plan chosen for the expressway after a lengthy review process. The interstate highway that now ends at Savannah Highway in West Ashley would be completed as a lower-speed parkway with a bike path, connecting through Johns Island and James Island to the James Island connector.

In October, Charleston County Council asked the S.C. Department of Transportation to consider a new option, to extend the Mark Clark Expressway only to Johns Island, and then connect it to River Road, which could be widened out to Kiawah and Seabrook islands. The council also directed the state to take another look at improving local roads, but Limehouse replied in November that neither option would meet the stated purpose of the project.

So, with the planning unresolved, some county residents find themselves living in homes they cannot refinance or sell because they are in the proposed path of the highway. Others, like Dan Freeman, have land that’s become difficult to sell or develop.

Freeman is the developer of The Reserve at Headquarters Island, a marsh island between Johns Island and the Stono River. He wants to sell remaining lots near the northern end of the island — listed prices start at $389,000 — but he needs an answer about the highway slated to cross the tip of the island.

“I knew when I bought the land that this thing was a possibility, and if they build the road, I’m OK with it,” he said. “If they don’t build, I want them to make a decision about the road plan.”

The road plan shows where roads are planned in the city of Charleston, and Headquarters Island is within the city limits. And where roads are planned, the city won’t permit land to be developed, so Freeman wants the state to either buy the part of Headquarters Island that he now can’t develop, near the remaining lots that are for sale, or decide to not complete the highway and take it off the city’s road plan.

The ball would seem to be in SCDOT’s court, but Mark Clark Expressway Project Manager David Kinard said the department will not move to acquire any land for the highway until Charleston County officials make a decision about the proposed route.

“Until we have clear direction from Charleston County about which way to go, we are not pursuing any property acquisitions,” he said.

Limehouse reiterated what he told Charleston County officials in a November letter, that the county has just two choices: Either agree to move ahead with the “alternative G” plan, or select the “no build” option and possibly start over again.

Either choice would be fraught with complications.

There’s not enough money for the alternative G plan, and there’s a legal issue involving the town of James Island’s opposition to the project. But if the county decides to start over and look at different alternatives, the funding approved by the State Infrastructure Bank — most of the project funding — could need to be renegotiated and might just disappear.

Post and Courier

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