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Transportation Advisory Board, June 28,

Attempting too much?
To ask County for $0.5 million for I-26 study
Warwick Jones

We applaud loudly the efforts and intentions of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). But the applause may be muted for the results of some of its deliberations, in particular, the ranking of transportation projects. Yesterday, the TAB met again to judge and rank the projects mentioned in the Comprehensive Transport Plan (CTP) against the criteria it defined earlier in the year. Although we feel confident that the Board will ultimately come up with a list, its scoring and rankings may be questionable.

To recapitulate, earlier this year the TAB defined criteria against which transportation projects should be measured and ranked. After defining the criteria, the Board attempted to assign a score and rank the various projects. But it became apparent after a very short time that the effort was difficult and highly subjective. Consequently, the TAB abandoned the effort and suggested that the process should be undertaken by the County.

TAB attempts evaluation by itself
After the CTP was presented to Council early this month, Council asked the TAB, the consultant and County staff to jointly review the projects in the CTP. (There is some issue as to whether the request included the initial bonded projects). In its wisdom, the TAB decided to take up the task itself. A subcommittee was formed to assist the evaluation and it, in turn, recommended a system whereby a project was assigned a score off either 1, 3 or 5, reflecting how well each project met each criterion. The score of 5 would mean the project fully meant the criterion. If it fully met each criterion, its total score would thereby be 40. i.e. 8 x 5. As a member of the subcommittee suggested, there may be shortcomings in the scoring system but it needed to be as simple as possible.

To assist the TAB be in its deliberations, representatives of CHATS and the LPA Group (the consultant) were present at yesterday's meeting. They both brought lots of data and maps, and attempted to answer the many questions asked by TAB members.

Uncertainty and dispute
As at the earlier attempt at scoring and ranking, there were lots of ambiguities and uncertainty. Some criteria could not be applied to projects or the application was tenuous. The system devised by the subcommittee was too simplistic, it seemed. To evaluate projects, TAB was attempting to drive square pegs into round holes. If was not helped by the fact that some Board members were unfamiliar with the projects or had never seen the roads where changes were planned. Notwithstanding, TAB members were asked to take their spreadsheets home and evaluate the 13 projects that were on it.

Going beyond is capability?
Maybe it's premature for us to judge and we should wait for the final evaluation. But at this stage, it seems that the TAB has gone beyond its capability. Arguably, it may be better to leave an evaluation and ranking of the projects to staff, the consultant, or CHATS, all of which have experience in project evaluation and are familiar with each project. The TAB of course should exercise its oversight role by critically reviewing the evaluation made by any of these bodeis. It should still stand by the criteria it defined, but not insist that they be used to score and rank projects in a very arbitrary way.

Criteria defined by the TAB and used in the assessment were:
• Project maintains and/or completes existing infrastructure
• Project is multimodal/ multipurpose
• Project provides interconnectivity to communities
• Project has potential to leverage funds
• Project provides regional benefits
• Project provides greater significance to most people
• Environmental impacts
• Land-use compatibility

A big contribution for I-26 study
The representative from CHATS at last night's meeting should've walked away smiling. He came to help the TAB its deliberations. He walked away with possibly $0.5 million as a contribution to a full study of I-26. At the prodding of the Coastal Conservation League, a study of the impact of many surrounding developments on I-26 was put on this week's agenda.

Mr. Ron Mitchum, a director of CHATS told the Board that a number of studies were underway. Wilbur Smith, the consulting group, is looking at the Interstate in the Neck area and the Corps of Engineers was looking at the Port access road. But CHATS recognized the importance of a long-term plan for I-26 in the light of the developments in the Tri County area that are now underway or planned. It estimated the cost of such a study at about $2 million of which approximately $1 million has been promised by private and public entities.

Not all members happy
After some discussion, the TAB voted to ask the County to contribute $0.5 million to the study. But not all Board members were happy with the request. Board member Hipp said the request had come out of "left field". The TAB should have more information. It seemed the request was part of a backward process. Other members suggested the County was only one of the many entities affected by I-26. It was a State road and the State should be paying some part of the study's cost. Similarly, the surrounding counties and municipalities as well as the important private entities should be asked to contribute.

"TAB to provide leadership role"
Prompted particularly by Chairman Knott and Board member Sinkler, the TAB decided to provide a leadership role in getting the study underway. This was a chance for the County to be proactive, to anticipate problems and seek solutions before the problems became out of hand, members said. And beside, $0.5 million was not a lot of money for an important study set against the $1 billion allocated for transportation out of the half cent sales tax.


CCL prepares for battle over Mark Clark extension

The seriousness of the Coastal Conservation League's intention to stop the extension of the Mark Clark has never been questioned. It was reinforced recently by a request to the County. Under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, the League has asked the County for information that "includes any and all correspondence between County Council and the Transportation Advisory Board, the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB), County staff, consultants hired by Charleston County, any board member or staff member of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, and any local or state elected officials related to the Mark Clark expansion, the STIB application and the recommended TAB project list". Also included are "copies of all past and current drafts of the transportation project bond ordinance that County Council is required to pass in order to put up a bond referendum on the November ballot".

The above was contained in the County's response to the League, a copy of which was given to the TAB at the close of yesterday's meeting. "The compilation of information you have requested will be lengthy and voluminous but we want to assure you that we are compiling the records that are responsive to your requests. Additionally, given the volume of records, we propose that you review the information when completed and then flag the documents you need copied. However, if you would like us to simply forward copies, please notify Mr. LaRoche, and we will send you an estimate of the costs once it is completed, as well as information regarding the required deposit"

Phew!

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