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County Council, June 26

Issue on choice of projects for sales tax allocations
Request for State to address issue of safety on Johns Island roads
Warwick Jones

There was little on the agenda for yesterday’s Finance Committee that seemed contentious. But Council Member Thurmond took exception to the fiscal 2009 annual allocations for road and drainage work financed by the half cent sales tax. He did not object to the spending but questioned as to how the specific projects were chosen.

A total of $11.8 million was budgeted for spending in Fiscal 2009 of which $1.34 million represented unspent balances from previous years. The annual allocations, representing $10.5 million, are Local Paving ($2 million), Bike and Pedestrian ways ($500,000), Intersection improvements ($2 million), Drainage improvements ($1million), County Public Works Projects ($1 million) and Resurfacing ($4 million). These allocations levels were recommended by the Transportation Advisory Board, and approved by County Council shortly following the introduction of the half- cent sales tax.

His district was shortchanged
Council member Thurmond presumably noted that his district was seemingly shortchanged in the choice of projects. He said he had little idea as to how the choices were made and questioned as to whether the projects had been fairly distributed amongst districts. Council member Schweers also registered some dissatisfaction with the process of choice. He said he would like some cost/benefit analysis undertaken. From what was submitted to Council, he could not tell which projects were high- priorities. He would like to see projects in each district ranked by order of priority.

Administrator Canterbury was unhappy about any notion to evenly divide spending amongst the districts. Some projects would provide considerable benefit to residents in other districts. He also noted that surfacing projects were chosen based on a mathematical formula. The choice of projects was made objectively but last year, the Council had injected another factor that staff had to consider – the length of time a proposed project had been up for consideration.

Despite the unease among some members, the Committee approved the proposed allocations and projects.

Contract for Palmetto Parkway construction to be awarded
The Committee, after an executive session, also agreed to award a contract for the design/build of Phase II of the Palmetto Parkway. It authorized staff to begin negotiations with the Banks/United Joint Venture for a contract up to $37.6 million. Completion of the Phase II project would join Ladson Road with the Ashley Phosphate Rd. It would alleviate traffic congestion on Ashley Phosphate and Dorchester Roads, the Committee was told.

The Palmetto Project was one of the bonded projects in the half-cent sales tax referendum. Phase I cost $4.4 million and was about $1.1 million over the originally anticipated cost. After talking to staff, we understand that the cost of Phase II, at less than $37.6 million, will be close to the originally anticipated cost.

Council asked State to step up to the plate on Johns Island issue
Council member Bostic got praise from his peers for the resolution to request the State to address the issue of safety on Main and Bohicket Road on Johns Island. He noted the concern of citizens in regard to safety on these roads. And as these were state roads, it was incumbent on the state to address the issue. Council member Condon noted that safety was also an issue on River Road and asked that it be included in the resolution. Council Bostic also acknowledged the request by some citizens for a Cross Island Expressway and the recent public hearing on the potential project. He said his proposed resolution was not an endorsement of the Cross Island Expressway. “I don't know how I will vote” on the issue, he said.

We do agree that the state has responsibility to deal with the safety issue. But there seem to be an element of “buck passing” in the resolution. The County can and has spent money on state roads, and if safety were an important enough issue, it could do so again. Very simply, the roads could be widened but at the cost of some hundreds of grand trees that line the roads. But nobody wants to cut down the streets. Certainly the residents of Johns Island don’t want them removed, nor do members of County Council. We suspect the State will be equally reluctant.

Are there alternatives to the Cross Island Expressway, or widening the existing roads? Some, including the Coastal Conservation League think there are.

We don’t expect the inclusion of the State will lead to a solution of the traffic problems of Seabrook, Kiawah and Johns Islands that will appease all parties to the issue. But at least the state should be party to a decision.