Here we go again. County and state leaders are pushing another misguided attempt to extend Interstate 526 when there are better options. Give it a rest, guys, and spend the money better, smarter and broader.
The extension’s new plan, which is almost exactly like an old plan to connect West Ashley to Johns Island and James Island, will end up costing $1 billion with Charleston County taxpayers footing a whopping part of the bill. A dozen years ago when it looked like the roadway, which has been discussed since the 1960s, would move forward, the cost was about a third of that. There’s another difference this time: The state’s financial commitment is capped. If there are cost overruns — and there are always overruns — county taxpayers will be holding what could be a very large bag.
Extending the interstate is a bad idea for multiple reasons, including what the Coastal Conservation League rightly describes as a “last-century highway project that benefits few and impacts many.”
First, the extended roadway — which isn’t even an interstate, but a parkway — will open up Johns Island to even more development. That quickly will clog the road making traffic just as bad — or worse — than it is now. Second are various environmental concerns: Noise, wetland destruction, pollution and more.
Third is the simple notion that the billion-dollar bucket of money could be redirected to be used in multiple smarter ways to improve our quality of life. For example, highway officials could build a flyover to Johns Island off U.S. Highway 17 to speed traffic. Or, instead of building bigger, wider roads that studies show do not reduce congestion, S.C.’s highway-happy DOT can help double down on expanding transportation alternatives to complement the game-changing bus rapid transit project in the works down Rivers Avenue.
And more than anything, they could spend money on where we know now it’s eventually going to be needed — to mitigate future flooding impacts all over the county. Just look around in your neighborhood and compare how waters are higher in bad storms than they were just a few years ago. It’s not going to get better. So if we want to keep living here, we need to adapt. And that costs money to the magnitude of what it would cost to extend the interstate about 10 miles.
Scrap the project. Don’t sign a blank check on our future. Throw away the same drawing board that’s been used for years by waffling county and state officials. Road builders always want to build more roads. This time, let’s do something different.
Regardless of whether you agree with us, let public officials know where you stand on the extension. The public comment period is open until Oct. 15. You can learn more online (scdotmarkclark.com) and have your say there, or you can attend any of three public meetings — Aug. 31 on Johns Island, Sept. 1 on James Island and Sept. 14 in West Ashley.