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County Council, March 20

CHATS presentation does little to resolve issue of I-526 extension
Council agrees to seek change in sales tax ordinance

Warwick Jones

If the presentation by the staff of CHATS was expected to settle the issue of extending the Mark Clark then it failed. The presentation highlighted some of the gains and losses in terms of traffic flow along the roads on and servicing Johns Island. But the spokesmen refused to be drawn into any conclusion as to whether the extension should be built. A random check amongst attendees indicated that most were as confused as this writer.

CHATS is an arm of the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCG) and plays a major role in road planning in the Tri County.

Why now and not before the SIB application?
The most obvious question we ask is why now? Why was the presentation made some months after Council had successfully lobbied for financing from the State Infrastructure Bank? The presentation was a projection of traffic flows in the year 2030 on the basis of the population increase by that year. Wasn’t it pertinent to have the results of this study before a decision was made to approach the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) for funding? The Bank agreed to fund the $425 million cost of construction. We also wonder why it funded the extension without access to the traffic study.

The study as presented yesterday did not give overwhelming support for the highway’s construction but we wonder what Council would do if the study indicated a large adverse impact. Would it have proceeded with the project or would it have backed down and faced the humiliation of making a wrong and premature decision? In a sense, it was fortunate the study seemed inconclusive.

Two scenarios for year 2030
The maps used by CHATS are too large for us to scan. But we understand they will be posted on the CHATS web site in the next few days. In the presentation, the staff showed the traffic flows on the major roads leading to and within Johns Island. There were two scenarios; the first was traffic flows by 2030 without the Mark Clark, and the second, with the Mark Clark.

Without the Mark Clark extension, the CHATS model showed failed (F) roads, i.e. traffic flows in excess of capacity, in many places. Folly Road, Savannah Highway and Ashley River Road would all have F classifications for those sections close to the existing Ashley River Bridge and other sections. The I-526 and Cosgrove Avenue have failing grades in those sections where they cross the Ashley River. The Maybank Highway would have a failing grade on that section near the bridge over the Wappoo River. Bohicket Road has a failing grade from Maybank Highway to Edenvale Road.

If the Mark Clark extension were built, there are some changes, but not many. Folly Road, Savannah Highway and Ashley River Road would still have F classifications for those sections close to the existing Ashley River Bridge, and I-526 and Cosgrove Avenues would still fail in those sections over the Ashley River. Bohicket Road would still retain a failing grade from Maybank Highway to Edenvale Road. Pressure would be taken off some of the minor roads on James Island and on Main Road. But the F grade for Maybank Highway would shift southward to where the proposed Marc Clark extension is likely to intersect the highway. Also interesting is that CHATS forecasts that the Mark Clark extension itself will be one grade below a failing grade by 2030 in that section between Maybank Highway and Savannah Highway.

Population projections of EDAW used
CHATS staff reiterated a number of times that they did not make the projections for population. These figures were drawn from the report of the consultant EDAW which was retained by the County to make an Impact study on the extension. It reported to the County about 9 months ago. In the report, the consultant forecast population rising from 18,177 to 30,828 on James and Wadmalaw Islands if the extension were not built, and rising another 2,500 to 5,100 if it were built.

Some attending the meeting yesterday took issue after the meeting with the basic population projection assumptions used by the consultant. The number of planned and likely dwelling units for the urban side of the Urban Growth Boundary was far more than used by the consultant. Consequently, they argued that the pressure on the failing roads will be much higher and that the Mark Clark extension itself may be a failing road by 2030.

Questions by Council members
Council members asked some pertinent questions of CHATS staff but often did not get the answers. Council member Condon asked whether they would rank the improvements needed on I 26 above the need for extending I 526? I-26 does not fall into CHATS’ area of responsibility so CHATS had no opinion. What about hurricane and tsunami readiness asked Council member Inabinett, fearing that many people will be stuck if the area is threatened. CHATS had never been asked to study this issue. Maybank and River Roads are shown as failing is some sections, could something be done to alleviate this? Yes, some improvements at the intersection would help.

Chairman Scott wound up the discussion on Council promising more opportunity for the Council members and the public to express their views on the extension.

The regular Council meeting followed on the special presentation by CHATS
Discussions on issues followed the pattern of those of the Finance Committee meeting last Thursday.

More discussion on request to State Legislature on referendum language
Council agreed to seek a change in the Ordinance relating to a possible referendum on a one cent sales tax to replace property taxes. If the Council agrees to hold a referendum some members want the ordinance changed to allow a relief only for owner-occupied dwellings. Some wanted no change so that the sales tax proceeds are spread over all properties, commercial, rental and dwellings. Council member Darby was concerned that reductions of sales tax could threaten the viability of financing education.

In the final vote, Council agreed to press forward with the request with Council members Darby, Condon, McKeown and Scott voting against the resolution.

Public speak out for change in classifying boats
The issue of treating boats as real property rather than personal property was raised by some members of the public. The issue was discussed at a Finance Committee meeting a month or so ago on the initiative of Council member Schweers. The County is considering the change in view of the IRS position to allow boats be used as second homes and thereby qualify for certain deductions. If the County were to change its ordinance, the tax would be reduced from an annul 10% to 6% of valuation. Only “large” Boats would qualify for the change and would need to have a head and galley.

Neighboring counties are changing ordinances

Speakers noted the move of neighboring counties to effectively reduce the tax rate. They also spoke of the present practice of many boats owners to keep their boats out of Charleston County for most of the year to avoid the tax. If the County changed the ordinance, many of those boats would be relocated to the County. The County would also have the benefit of the spending by the returning boat owners on maintenance and supplies. Some argued that a reduction in the tax rate may well lead to an increase in County revenues because of much higher spending by boat owners.

We expect the issue will be formally considered by Council in the not-too-distant future

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