Charleston Council Nixes Greenway Proposal

August 23, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThe Sea Island Greenway is dead, for now. It has been killed a couple of times in the past, but has somehow been resurrected. And maybe it will rise again to haunt the island.

Its death at the Aug. 12 Charleston County Council finance committee meeting was slow and extended over the major part of the two-hour Finance Committee meeting. And indeed, there were times where it seemed the “Sea Island monster” would live to stretch its tentacles across the island.

Ultimately, though, the committee agreed only to safety improvements, which include changes and modification to a number of intersections.

Council member Paul Thurmond was the champion of the Greenway cause. It was his resilience and tenacity more than anything else that restored it to life after its last presumed death in 2008.

At that time the County Council showed no interest when the plan was brought before it. But council’s subsequent attempts to deal with the traffic problems on Johns Island provided sufficient oxygen to keep it alive.

And last year, council agreed to study the issue of widening/modifying some of the main roads on the island, and as an alternative, building the Greenway. Earlier this month, county staff gave a presentation as to its conclusion on the issues. Viewers can see the presentation here.

Study favored Greenway

The result of the study appeared to have been pleasing to Thurmond and the residents of Kiawah and Seabrook Island who supported the Greenway.

By most measures used by the staff, and assuming that the I-526 extension is built, the Greenway options are superior to the others. They were less costly and took up less farmland.

They lessened the likelihood of traffic congestion at some of the major intersections in the future. Research by the Charleston Area Transportation Study suggested that projected traffic growth could lead to “failure” of some roads by 2030.

Charleston County staff gave a score of 114 to the four options relating to the location of the Sea Island Greenway. The cost of these options ranged from about $50 million to $55 million.

Staff gave a score of 104 to the Bohicket/Main Road widening and estimated the cost at $94.4 million. However these scores were predicated on the Mark Clark extension being completed. If it were not, then the scoring fell to 100 and their cost rose by $7 million to $8 million each.

Schweers Leads Opposition

Councilman Dickie Schweers has been the most vocal opponent of the Sea Island Greenway and the Aug. 12 meeting was no exception.

Before the presentation began, he moved that the committee approve only the recommendation to commit to the safety improvements but to include work on the U.S. 17 and Maybank Highway intersection, and to apply for a $5 million federal grant. The committee then heard the presentation and began to debate the issue.

Schweers said that traffic congestion on Johns Island was exaggerated and did not warrant the proposed spending on the Sea Island Greenway or widening. He also thought that the CHATS projections were suspect. They were made in 2008 before the onset of the current recession.

He also thought there was more congestion in other parts of Charleston County that warranted attention before that on Johns Island.

Other council members were concerned on the cost of Greenway options and the widening alternatives, and noted the opposition from Johns Islanders. There was also the question as to whether the Mark Clark expressway would ever be extended.

Thurmond Responds

Thurmond posed a series of rhetorical questions – relating to cost, safety, loss of farmland, loss of wetland and efficacy of toll roads in S.C. – the answers to which favored the Sea Island Greenway options.

He went on to decry the activities of a special interest group opposed to the Greenway that had been circulating information that was inaccurate.

But ultimately, the Greenway got little support. The committee tried to come to a conclusion on the Johns Island road issues. Councilman Curtis Inabinett said that he thought the county was being sold a bill of goods that it did not need or want.

He criticized the loss of property to make way for the Greenway and the Mark Clark extension, and said he would “go with” the 3,000 people of Johns Island who opposed the Greenway. Ultimately a vote to approve the Greenway failed.

In the final vote, on a motion made by Schweers, the finance committee requested staff evaluate, design and implement the safety improvements to the extent that financing would allow, and to apply for a $5 million federal grant. The vote was unanimous, though Thurmond was absent, having left the chamber after the Greenway options were effectively rejected.