Letting public into 526 loop

The state Department of Transportation’s proposal for completing I-526 has drawn increased scrutiny from Secretary of Transportation H.B. “Buck” Limehouse, who has ordered staff to hold three additional public hearings to accommodate those residents who would be most affected by the project. Mr. Limehouse’s timely intervention will ensure that the controversial plan gets a full public review.

Initially, the DOT planned to hold two hearings on peninsula Charleston only, despite the fact that the extension will be built on James Island, Johns Island and West Ashley. Additional hearings will be held at those three locations — dates and times to be announced.

Since the Burke High School hearings on Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 already have been scheduled and advertised, they will be held as well. Downtown residents also have an interest in the completion of the interstate loop, which will bring an increased volume of traffic onto the peninsula, via the James Island Connector. As yet, there are no plans to improve what has become a morning rush-hour bottleneck at Cal houn Street.

The extension would complete the Mark Clark Expressway. Unlike the conventional interstate loop already in place, the remaining multi-lane link would alternate between an elevated roadway and an at-grade road, with speed limits between 35 and 45 mph.

It also would increase the number of proposed intersections on Johns and James islands from two to six.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the proposal a “wonderful solution.”

But Mr. Limehouse isn’t so sure. He said the DOT needs to closely review the added intersections, which would facilitate new development. As he put it: “What’s the point of building a road to relieve congestion when you are encouraging development?”

He also questions whether motorists would actually adhere to the proposed speed limits on the expressway extension.

DOT planners offered a plan they say will satisfy what the public wants, based on hearings held last year. Mr. Limehouse says more public involvement is needed on a design that diverges sharply from the existing interstate loop.

And as he acknowledges, the DOT should pave the way for those residents who want to speak out on the project.

Post and Courier, Editorial

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