Part of mature and visionary leadership is knowing when to reevaluate, recalculate and reconsider a public policy dream.
Such is the case now with extending Interstate 526 from West Ashley across Johns Island to James Island. This nine-mile stretch of limited-access road will cost $2.2 billion
— more than the amount of a dozen road projects of regional and local significance that taxpayers said they wanted in a 2016 sales tax referendum.
At issue is whether to tie the hands of county coffers for a generation to a road that will cost $200 million a mile to build which, in turn, will keep officials from funding more affordable housing, repairing shoddy existing roads and proactively dealing with more climate-induced flooding.
While some new and veteran council members likely are doing a lot of hand-wrenching and soul-searching about a coming Jan. 12 vote on the extension, the choice isn’t that difficult: Stop fiddling with this white whale of a road. Instead, use tax money now to deal with problems that we can wrap our hands around. Putting all of our investment eggs in the extension would hamstring our grandchildren with a policy folly in a county that is begging for real solutions and actions on too many issues.
Here are things that can happen sooner, rather than later, if the county gets beyond the foolish gambit of extending I-526:
• Fund affordable housing: Invest $250 million in an affordable housing trust to provide continuing, sustainable funding for housing for teachers, police, firefighters, hospitality workers and others frozen out of Charleston’s expensive real estate market. Such a fund could fuel shovel-ready projects that would benefit people across the county quickly.
• Fight flooding: All local governments face steep future costs for dealing with sea-level rise, as evidenced by increased flooding happening now. Either we can invest in infrastructure and strategies to mitigate it and protect homes and buildings owned by taxpayers, or we can keep our hands over our eyes and stumble forward. To do nothing — which is what would happen if I-526 sucks away too much local tax money — is to set us up for more than a natural disaster. It will create an economic one, too.
• Fix our roads: Every driver in Charleston County pays $429 per year in unnecessary car costs because of how crappy roads force extra repairs, accelerated vehicle debration, more fuel consumption and increased tire wear, according to a 2022 national report. Rather than build nine miles for one roadway, let’s focus on fixing some of the 4,000 lane-miles of existing roads in the county, too many of which are bumpier than a buckin’ bronco.
Two new members of county council should join with at least three veterans to shut down the extension of Interstate 526. Contact your council member today and urge him or her to vote no Jan. 12 on spending $75 million to keep this mind-numbing tax-suck of a road from becoming a reality. If they don’t stand up and say no now, we all lose, far into the future.
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