The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Completion of I 526 will not create "urban sprawl"
But changes to existing zoning regulations willG. Robert George, P.L.S., P.E. Councilmember District-12 City of Charleston
Strict enforcement of Zoning - The Best "Urban Sprawl" Defense
Zoning, like police and fire protection, is a basic function of local government. It is the primary tool cities and counties use to implement land use planning objectives. Zoning decisions by local elected officials become the "blue print" for land development and dictate, to a great degree, the magnitude and sources of property taxes and other revenue generated by local municipalities, county government and public schools.
Recently, there have been several newspaper articles and "letters to the editor" about future growth in West Ashley and on James and Johns Islands. Much of this attention has been directed to the perceived exacerbation of urban sprawl, which, some contend, will result from the completion of I-526 from US-17 to Folly Road on James Island.
New highways do not cause sprawl but poor zoning choices do. The lack of public will to stand firm in the face of pressure to increase density, not I-526, will generate sprawl in these three areas. Under current zoning, both within and beyond the Urban Growth Boundary, over 10,000 new residential units are planned and will be constructed west of the Ashley River, most within the next decade.. Provided current zoning and development densities remain unchanged, the completion of I-526 should have minimal effect upon the total number of residential units ultimately built. However, its completion will have a dramatic effect upon our ability to safely and conveniently travel throughout all of greater Charleston west of the Ashley River.
Many opponents of the completion of I-526 point to the two new fixed span bridges recently constructed over the Stono River and claim these are adequate to support the expected growth of traffic. Others claim that the new Maybank Highway Bridge should have been constructed a mile further south as a key component to complete I-526 and eliminate the need for two expensive bridges in close proximity to each other. This particular argument ignores the very high daily traffic volumes on Folly and Maybank between the Wappoo and Stono Bridges. Without the Maybank Bridge, and only a single, more southern connection between James and Johns Islands, tens of thousands of vehicles would have to travel further south on Folly to access I-526 before traveling to Johns, Kiawah, Seabrook and Wadmalaw Islands. This would greatly exacerbate already serious traffic congestion on Folly Road north of Camp Road. Both the recently completed BCD COG Regional Traffic Analysis and earlier James Island Traffic Study demonstrate the continued need for the Maybank Highway Bridge while supporting the completion of I-526.
Given only current zoning and planned growth that will occur, who will benefit from completing I-526? All of us - with a safer, more efficient arterial transportation network. We will have more, and, for many, shorter commuting options. Savings in non-productive travel time and less energy consumption from reduced fuel use will benefit our economy, preserve our resources and improve our overall quality-of-life.
The completion of I-526 will allow more direct, quicker commuting options for neighborhoods now dependent upon the Glenn McConnell Expressway, Savannah Highway and Ashley River Road and those who reside on the Barrier and Sea Islands southwest of the Peninsula. A new critically needed direct hurricane evacuation route will also be available to US-17 and SC-61. This remaining section of I-526 will also differ from all other existing sections in one major aspect; it will remain essentially free of port-related heavy truck traffic.
What is essential to ensure maximum benefit from the completion of I-526 while minimizing future Urban Sprawl precipitated by its construction? Our elected local officials must have the courage, stamina and integrity to stand fast against future rezoning pressures. Both current zonings and the Urban Growth Boundary must be preserved if we are to minimize undesirable growth related impacts upon our quality-of-life and maximize the benefit of future roadway infrastructure improvements.