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County Council, October 2

County rejects City’s plan for Maybank/River Road intersection
Is a compromise possible?
Warwick Jones

It was clear from the beginning of the yesterday's Finance Committe meeting – the City of Charleston would have a hard time selling its plan for the River Road/ Maybank Highway intersection. Council member Thurmond wanted to kill the plan immediately but other members of Council at least wanted to hear the City out. They heard the City’s plan, and then they killed it.

Look to compromise but “don’t spin wheels”
Council instructed staff to work again with the City to develop a compromise plan. But staff was instructed to report back to Council promptly if no progress seemed likely. There was no point in staff “spinning its wheels”. Considering Mayor Riley’s closing remarks, we wonder whether there is any point in a meeting of the respective staff. The Mayor’s tone and words in his closing comment showed nothing of compromise. But to be fair, even if there were the will, is a compromise possible given the differences in the projects?

In some respects it was a sad meeting. As Council member McKeown eloquently said, it was a sorry business that the County and City had not worked together from the beginning in developing a plan for this important intersection. The present differences between the two entities should never have occurred. Staff should have been working together. But as another Council member said, the plan adopted by the County was that essentially put to voters in a referendum in 2004. The City had endorsed that plan and it was only relatively recently that it had moved to its present plan.

Considering the publicity it has received, the City’s plan is probably well known to viewers. In summary, instead of widening Maybank Highway to four lanes, as proposed by the County, the City proposes leaving Maybank Highway as it is with two lanes. But it proposes the development of 3 broadly parallel roads each with two lanes. They will come off Maybank Highway to the north of the intersection and allow traffic to disperse without going through the intersection. City has dubbed its proposal, the “pitchfork network”. The City also states that widening Maybank Highway will kill the development of its “gathering place” concept for the area around the intersection. It also claims that widening of Maybank will be the death knell for maintaining the rural ambience of Johns Island.

Mayor talks of cooperation
The Mayor kicked of the presentation and briefly spoke of the past cooperation between the City and County and the need for the adoption of the City plan. He then handed over to the Consultant, retained and paid for by the City, County and Coastal Conservation League to study traffic flows. The presentation was very similar to that given to City Council last week. However, some confusion was injected into the presentation because the Consultant had modified his first report to make it more comparable to that relating to the Maybank Widening, to allow “an apples to apples" comparison. The new report was made ignoring interchange design with the extension of I-526.

Consultant talks of benefits and cost savings
In a long and sometimes rambling presentation, the Consultant showed anticipated traffic flows through both “pitchfork network” and the Maybank widening. His projection was based on projected traffic figures for 2030 supplied by the Council of Governments (COGS). He also stated that the estimated cost of the City’s plan including the $2.3 million acquisition of right of ways (ROW) was $26.9 million. This compared with his estimated cost of the County’s plan of $43.3 million. He pointed out that the City’s plan would require acquisition of 21 properties comprising 27 acres. This could be relatively easily accomplished, allowing an early beginning to construction. The County’s plan required the acquisition of 223 properties at an estimated cost of $19.3 million. That would take some time he opined.

Council member Thurmond critical
Council member Thurmond was the consultant’s consistent critic. And the consultant did not help himself by frequent obfuscation. Indeed, the Mayor rose on one occasion to help in a response. The Council member, who has supported Seabrook and Kiawah Island in their attempts to reduce travel time to Charleston, asked about the delays to traffic caused by lights relating to the pitchfork network. He also asked as to whether the pitchfork network was viable even if Maybank were widened and how sure could the City be about its agreement with landowners for ROWs. And then there was the difference in the cost estimated by the City and the County in relation to the Maybank widening.

We are not sure what the conclusion was in relation to the travel times following the implementation of the pitchfork network. There were a lot of numbers thrown out and indeed there may not be a single right number as it will depend on the time of the day. But it seemed from what the consultant said that a small increase in travel times can be anticipated by those crossing over River Road. And it would not make sense to have both the widening and the pitchfork network. It would be costly, a waste of money, and destroy the possibility of developing a “gathering place”.

County staff reaffirms its cost estimate
And as for cost, County staff was asked about its estimate of the widening of Maybank Highway. There was no change in its estimate of $30 million, and this included ROW acquisition.

Two members support City’s plan
Council member Condon, the Mayor’s champion on County Council, predictably moved that the City’s plan be adopted. Unpredictably, Council member Schweers seconded her. These were the only two members of Council to support the City’s plan. But what Council member Schweers said made sense. How can the County override the City when the project is in the City? We should “let local government have its way”. He said that the City is not likely to help the County if there is a cost overrun on the Maybank widening. At the same time, the City cannot look to the County if there is a cost overrun on its pitchfork network. But Mayor Riley's satisfaction of this support was probably restrained by the Council member’s closing opinion - the pitchfork network was an attempt at salvaging Johns Island from the development that had occurred and which was inappropriate for Johns Island.

How can you speak of trust?
Council Chairman Scott made a healing speech close to the conclusion. In his speech, and in those of others including the Mayor, we heard terms such as “trust”, “cooperation” “agreement to disagree”, “wonderful work” and so on. These are words we would hope to find in a description of a relationship between the County and the City of Charleston. But if they can’t be applied, we look more to the City than to the County. Memories at the County are not so short as to forget that Mayor Riley promised to honor the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) defined by the County to limit urban growth. Yet a year or so ago, the City unilaterally moved to annex the Long Savannah properties and to effectively extend the UGB. The County Council members were shocked but legally there was nothing they could do. How can you speak of trust?

Contacts awarded for land fill construction and consultancy
Council also awarded the contact for the Bees Ferry Landfill MSW Cell 2 construction. It was awarded to Glover Construction of Pleasant Hill, North Carolina and was for $6.8 million. The Council abandoned the earlier bids for the perceived complications relating to joint venture provisioning. This option was removed in the latest call for bids and as Council member Pryor wryly noted, the winning bid was $700,000 higher than the lowest bid in the first round.

A contract was also awarded to Kessler Consulting of Florida to provide consulting serviced relating to waste disposal for the County.