Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is defending the city’s decision to begin a $11.3 beautification project for the Crosstown from critics who believe the city should first fix the thoroughfare’s flooding woes, a project that will cost $146 million.

In April, the city will begin work on the beautification project, which will likely lead to persistent lane closures. As part of the federal stimulus-funded project, the city will lay new drainage pipes and make landscaping improvements to the street.

Riley calls a recent Post and Courier article questioning the mayor’s desire to fix flooding on the Crosstown “negative, cynical, and misleading,” and defends the makeover. “These neighborhoods would rather have trees lining the highway and a safe crossing than this brutal scar,” he says. Riley argues that the overall flooding project is too big for the city to tackle on its own and requires the federal government to accept a large share of the responsibility in repairing the state highway.

The city has already invested $7.5 million in the project to fix Crosstown flooding and is prepared to provide another $30 million if the state and federal government come through with the rest of the cash. “We accepted the responsibility of identifying the problem and the solution,” Riley says. “It’s no more a city responsibility than if a bridge goes out that needs to be replaced. It’s part of a federal transportation system.”

The mayor notes that he has spoken several times with federal agencies regarding financing, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “I could take you to it blindfolded,” Riley says of the Army Corps headquarters in Washington.

At a recent County Council meeting, Riley vowed that the project would be fully funded during his next four-year term. After Councilman William Dudley Gregorie countered that nothing had been done in his lifetime, Riley laughed and replied that the councilman wasn’t dead yet. —Greg Hambrick