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Council Members Divided On Infrastructure That Must Be Provided, Says Johnson
10/5/2016 5:47:26 PM

Henry Darby

Anna Johnson

Teddie Pryor
By Barney Blakeney

The controversy over extending the Interstate 526 highway isn’t going away any time soon. But it may not be built any time soon either. That’s how three Charleston County council members feel anyway.

Charleston County Council’s three African American representatives offered mixed views about the off Interstate 526 spur that keeps popping in and out the local reality.

For some 25 years the beltway that was supposed to tie points north, south, east and west in the Metro-Charleston area together languished on drawing boards until 1997.

That’s when its northern, eastern and western components opened. Since then local governments have been trying to complete the circle with an extension of the southern component.

That’s been an uphill struggle as political, conservation and financial concerns undermined its completion.

After several years of debate in April the project was abandoned by the state infrastructure bank.

The bank previously allocated $420 million toward its completion.

That cost continues to increase as time passes. It already has increased an estimated $300 million dollars.

Charleston County Dist. 4 Councilman Henry Darby said he never will support completion of the highway. The proposed extended path takes it across James Island and Johns Island, areas that were pristine rural sea islands when the highway first was proposed. Darby says he wants to preserve what’s left of that rural flavor. But more importantly, he hopes to prevent the further displacement residents who have lived there for generations. But even if the highway is completed, it won’t happen for another couple of decades, he said.

That’s not how former county council chair Teddie Pryor sees things, however. Pryor said development of the two sea islands have occurred so rapidly since the highway first was proposed, failure to provide a safe and efficient escape route off Johns Island would be negligent. Although the state infrastructure bank has backed out of the deal to fund completion, Pryor sees the previous agreement as seed money to leverage the additional funding.

Dist. 8 Councilwoman Anna Johnson represents the residents of James Island and Johns Island. She says her constituents want the highway completed and she welcomes renewed efforts to secure funding. Pointing to a half cent sales tax referendum that will generate over $2 billion if approved by voters in November, Johnson said she thinks the highway will be funded and completed before she leaves office. Her term expires in two years.

“When you get the funding, you’d be surprised how fast things move,” she said. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey last week petitioned the infrastructure bank to reallocate its funding for the highway. Bank officials say they want more details on how local governments would come up with their share. Johnson said she feels he predominantly black constituents of the islands will support funding for the highway.

They want relief from traffic congestion that blocks all the main highways onto Johns Island. As areas of Johns Island, Adams Run, and Ravenel continue to develop the infrastructure that wasn’t planned to accommodate it will have to be provided, she said.

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