UPDATE: On Monday, May 18, 2015, the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SCTIB) Board approved a motion instructing their legal staff to continue contract negotiations with Charleston County and South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), and to come back with a contract proposal within 120 days. According to SCDOT officials, that proposal could involve building the extension of the Mark Clark Expressway in two phases, with the first phase taking the road from where it ends now at US-17 in West Ashley to Johns Island. The second phase, to be built at an unspecified later date, would then connect the road to the James Island Connector at Folly Road. There is, however, still no indication as to which party will be responsible for any cost overruns or legal fees in the event that lawsuits are filed. In addition, because the $558 million cost estimate has not been updated since 2012, SCDOT will release a more current estimate sometime in June.
I-526 or the “Mark Clark Expressway” is an interstate loop in Charleston County that currently terminates at Savannah Highway in West Ashley and in Mount Pleasant. In June 2007, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) voted to fund the I-526 extension from the Savannah Highway terminus to the James Island Connector (SC-30). This 8 mile highway extension is estimated to cost at least $558 million dollars and save drivers only 36 seconds in travel time from West Ashley to James Island.
Rather than just saying “No” to this destructive project, the Coastal Conservation League hired Glatting, Jackson, Kercher, Anglin, a transportation planning firm to create a new alternative to this massive highway project. Our alternative, “A New Way to Work,” will resolve traffic congestion in major bottleneck areas, costs over 50% less that the State plan and create an enhanced public realm centered around the road networks. Due to limited dollars and resources, we continue to advocate beyond even our own alternative and for a comprehensive approach so that the projects of highest local and state priority are pursued before and instead of politically motivated projects like the I-526 extension.
A large interstate project would continue to promote automobile-dependent transportation across Charleston County and increase sprawl outside the urban growth boundary rather than repairing those transportation corridors closer to the urban core. The proposed expansion of I-526 places pressure on rural areas and natural resources and is an inefficient use of valuable coastal land. Specifically, the proposed alignment (Alternative G) cuts through neighborhoods, the James Island County Park and impacts 17.4 acres of wetlands.
Further, this affects the state of South Carolina because $558 million dollars comes from the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. This is the funding entity for all projects of statewide significance and economic development and given the limited resources, by choosing to obligate funds to I-526, the state bank is choosing against funding improvements to the I-26 and I-85 corridors, funds from freight rail, and funds for new economic development like Boeing in North Charleston.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation has released their Draft Environment Impact Statement (EIS) with their selected alternative, a parkway concept, known as “alternative G”. SCDOT is in the process of finalizing the EIS. The “New Way to Work” alternative was eliminated during the selection process and the League is working with the Southern Environmental Law Center to address why this alternative was not studied more closely.
Charleston County Council ultimately accepted SCDOT’s preferred Alternative G.
As residents and concerned citizens, you can let the DOT and Charleston County know that we do not need a major highway extension by making calls, writing letters and emails and by attending public meetings.
As new development continues to cluster around the I-26 corridor, we must also direct our attention to the important transportation planning in that area. Rather than extending two bridges to rural Johns Island and building an expressway through James Island, we believe funds should be dedicated for improvements to the I-26 corridor to address the growing needs and maximize the benefit of new industry such as Boeing and the Clemson Restoration Institute wind turbine facility. Mass transit, such as light rail, is an exciting opportunity for this area and should have priority in attention and funding. Please visit our project pages for “Fix 26” and “Transportation Reform” for more information.