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County Council, August 12

Sea Island Greenway killed again
County will proceed on Safety Measures only
Warwick Jones

The Sea Island Greenway (SIG) is dead, for now. It has been killed a couple of times in the past, but has somehow been resurrected. And maybe it will rise again to haunt the island. Its death last night was slow and extended over the major part of the two hour Finance Committee meeting. And indeed, there were times where it seemed the Sea Island monster would live to stretch its tentacle across the island. Ultimately, the Committee agreed only to Safety Improvements which include changes and modification to a number of intersections.

Council member Thurmond was the champion of the SIG cause. It was his resilience and tenacity more than anything else that restored it to life after its last presumed death in 2008. At that time Council showed no interest when the plan was brought before it. But Council’s subsequent attempts to deal with the traffic problems on Johns Island provided sufficient oxygen to keep it alive. And last year, Council agreed to study the issue of widening/modifying some of the main roads on the island, and as an alternative, building the SIG. Last night, staff gave a presentation as to its conclusion on the issues. Viewers can see the presentation by pressing here. This will take you to the County web site and the Road Wise page, The actual presentation can be seen by pressing Presentation to Charleston County Council August 12, 2010 in the center of the Road Wise page.

Study favored the SIG
The result of the study must have been pleasing to Council member Thurmond and to the residents of Kiawah and Seabrook Island who supported the SIG. By most measures used by Staff, and assuming that the I-526 extension is built, the SIG options are superior to the others. They were less costly, took up less farm land. Importantly, they lessened the likelihood of traffic congestion at some of the major intersection in future. Studies by CHATS suggested that projected traffic growth could lead to “failure” of some roads by 2030.

Viewers can study the presentation for the details. Staff gave a score of 114 to the 4 options relating to the siting of the SIG. The cost of these options ranged from about $50 million to $55 million. Staff gave a score of 104 to the Bohicket/ Main Road widening and estimated the cost at $94.4 million. However these scores were predicated on the Mark Clark extension being completed. If it were not, then the scoring relating to the SIG options fell to 100 and their cost rose by $7-$8 million each.

Council member Schweers leads opposition…………
Council member Schweers has been the most vocal opponent of the SIG and last night was no exception. Before the presentation began he moved that the Committee approve only the recommendation by staff to commit to the Safety Improvements but to include work on the Highway 17 and Maybank Highway intersection, and to apply for a $5 million Federal grant. The Committee then heard the presentation and began to debate the issue, and with spirit.

Council member Schweers opined that traffic congestion on Johns Island was exaggerated and did not warrant the proposed spending on the SIG or widening, He also thought that the CHATS projections were suspect. They were made in 2008 before the onset of the current recession. He also thought there was more congestion in other parts of the County that warranted attention before that on Johns Island. Other Council members were concerned on the cost of SIG options and the widening alternatives and noted the opposition from Johns Islanders, There was also the question as to whether the Mark Clark expressway would ever be extended.

…. And Council member Thurmond responds vigorously
Council member Thurmond looked exasperated. He posed a series of rhetorical questions - relating to cost, safety, loss of farmland, loss of wetland, efficacy of toll roads in SC - the answers to which favored the SIG options. He went on to decry the activities of a special interest group opposed to the SIG that had been circulating information that was inaccurate. We thought it was an impressive speech. And it seemed the SIG was very much alive after Council voted down Council Schweers motion.

But ultimately, the SIG got little support
The Committee then attempted to come to a conclusion on the Johns Island road issues. We won’t attempt to cover the meanderings but as one Council Member observed, it was confusing. We do note that Council member Inabinett exclaimed with some exasperation that he thought the County was being sold a bill of goods that it did not need or want. He decried the loss of property to make way for the SIG and the Mark Clark extension. and he would “go with” the 3,000 people of Johns Island that opposed the SIG. Ultimately a vote to approve the SIG failed.

In the final vote, on a motion made by Council member Schweers that seemed very similar to his first motion and which failed, the Finance Committee requested staff to evaluate, design and implement the Safety Improvements to the extent that financing would allow, and to apply for a $5 million Federal grant. The vote was unanimously for the motion though Council member Thurmond was absent, having left the chamber after the SIG options were effectively rejected.

Referendum for a commission to study consolidation in the County
The Finance Committee also approved a motion made by Council member Rawl to place a referendum item on the November ballot. The item was to seek public approval to form a commission to study the possibility of consolidating some of the services provided by the County and municipalities. The Council member had signaled his intention at an earlier Finance Committee meeting. Last night he said that Council was not obliged to get voters’ approval but it was good that it did. The Commission, should it be formed, would study the opportunity for consolidation but consolidation could not occur without the agreement of the municipalities. The Finance Committee voted in favor with only Council member Schweers opposing.

Note On Tuesday night, August 17, County Council confirmed the Finace Committee's decision to move ahead only with Safety Improvements on Johns Island roads. However, it decided to add the intersection of Highway 17 and Main Road to the list of Safety Improvements.

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