Charleston County Council won’t be turning over I-526 project to the city

Assistant County Administrator Jim Armstrong (left) and County Council members Herb Sass and Colleen Condon took a tour Tuesday of properties that would be affected by the I-526 project. Buy this photo

Charleston County Council tonight could vote to build the controversial completion of Interstate 526, edging out Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who stood ready to take on the job.

If you go

What: Charleston County Council meeting on Interstate 526

When: 5 p.m. today

Where: Second floor, Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston

Schedule: Committee meetings begin at 5 p.m. I-526 will be discussed at the Finance Committee meeting, which is the third committee to meet. Committee meetings will be followed by a public comment session and full council meeting. Those who wish to speak during the public comment session must sign up between 4 and 5:30 p.m. outside Council chambers.

County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said Wednesday that a majority of council members do not support turning over the $558 million project to the city of Charleston. Council was expected to vote tonight on whether to hand over the project, but it’s clear that a majority of council members are opposed to such a move, so a vote isn’t necessary, Pryor said.

No smooth sailing for I-526

Interstate 526 will continue to face obstacles, even if Charleston County Council votes to complete it:

Required environmental and other permits will face scrutiny from regulatory agencies. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency already has raised concerns that the proposed parkway plan does not do enough to reduce congestion, increase safety and improve regional mobility. That’s important, according to the agency, considering the magnitude of the project and its potential impact on the environment and people living in the area.

Residents and environmental groups that oppose the project, including the Coastal Conservation League, likely will challenge the issuing of those permits, moves that could slow down the project for years. Already one local resident has filed a complaint with the EPA over the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s threat to Charleston County that if it does not build the road, it would be on the hook for $11.6 million already spent on the project.

Instead, Pryor said, council members could vote on whether the county should build the extension of I-526 across Johns and James islands. Pryor, a strong supporter of the project, said he hopes a council member will make a motion to take a vote on whether the county should complete the project.

“I hope like hell they do,” Pryor said. “And I hope the vote goes my way.”

Councilwoman Colleen Condon, a project opponent, said, “I fear there’s a majority of council members that will vote for it.”

She remained uncertain Wednesday evening whether such a vote would take place. “But it’s a real possibility,” she said.

Charleston City Council voted last month to ask the county to turn over the project.

Riley said, “The city’s interest is only and completely to get I-526 built.” He is not concerned with who builds it, as long as somebody builds it, he said. And he hopes the city’s offer to take on the project ultimately proves to be a catalyst to get the project off the ground.

Project supporters say the road is needed for safety reasons and to ease traffic congestion. Opponents say it will promote sprawl and increase development, especially on Johns Island.

While speculation swirls on whether a majority of five of the nine council members would vote in favor of building the road, Isaac Godfrey, 82, and his relatives who live on Delaney Drive on James Island wait in fear.

Godfrey’s family members have been living along the quiet, dirt road since 1936. He has owned his home, one of eight family homes on the road, since 1964. If I-526 is built, it would pass 180 feet from his house.

“Now we have peace and tranquility and deer,” Godfrey said. If the road is built, we would have “noise and fumes.”

Patricia Richardson-Scott, who grew up on Delaney Drive, said through tears, “I love it here. I want to stay here.”

Some residents of the Waterway South condominiums in West Ashley have similar fears.

The condominiums now have striking views of the marsh and the Stono River. If I-526 moves forward, a bridge from West Ashley to Johns Island would be built across the landscape. Not only will the view be marred, but the noise from traffic will disturb residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, several residents said.

The residents also worry about how the road might cause a sharp drop in the value of their properties.

Waterway South was one of several stops on a tour of affected properties that some County Council members and county staff members took Tuesday.

One of the council members on that tour was Herb Sass, who is one of three members considered undecided on completing I-526. The others are Henry Darby and Anna Johnson.

So far, three council members have been strong supporters of the project, three have been opposed, and another three have said they are undecided.

If two or more of the council members who have said they hadn’t made up their minds vote in favor of the project, it would move forward.

Sass said he’s not ready to say how he would vote. “Everything is on the table,” he said. “I’m considering everything. This is a tough decision.”

Darby said he supports a road that goes from West Ashley to Johns Island, and stops there. He would not support any road that would disrupt and possibly destroy communities on Johns and James islands.

Johnson did not return calls for comment.

Project supporters on County Council are Pryor, Elliott Summey and Vic Rawl. Opponents are Condon, Dickie Schweers and Joe Qualey.

Even if County Council votes tonight or sometime soon to build the extension, the project faces a lengthy approval process. And opponents’ challenges to required environmental permits likely would delay the start of the project for years.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.

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