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I-526 Parkway – a nightmare waiting to happen

Lee Walton

SCDOT’s recent selection of a cobbled-together hybrid alternative for the long-suffering completion of the I-526 Loop promises to be nothing short of a nightmare for James and Johns Islands. Consider the scale and complexity of notorious at-grade intersections in West Ashley and on Johns and James Islands that currently handle tens of thousands of vehicles daily and then imagine them handling four to five times more volume at the proposed intersections of the I-526 Parkway with Folly Road, Riverland Drive and River Road. Consider the tens of thousands of additional vehicles wanting only to cross over James Island becoming snarled in the sea of red taillights backed-up halfway from the Folly Intersection to the Harbor View Road Overpass during westbound evening rush hour traffic. Notwithstanding that Mayor Riley would predictably be “extremely happy with the wonderful solution”, what other renowned mystical gurus have thought this latest “compromise” through to a logical, defendable conclusion?

James Island already has a “ low-speed four-lane parkway”, only too often one that becomes a “no-speed parking lot” - it is called Folly Road. What SCDOT admits is “lot different than anything we’ve proposed before” will not solve anything, but its unintended consequence are not too difficult to predict. One must wonder if the project engineers and “municipal visionaries” who conceived this nightmare ever considered the impact that thousands of additional vehicles per day will have upon the safety and levels-of-service of Folly Road, Riverland Drive and numerous neighborhood streets that will become overnight cut-troughs for motorists trying to avoid the bottle-necks created at the new grid-locked intersections. As bad as the James Island Expressway and Folly Intersection is today, consider adding the additional peak hour volume, turning movements, queuing lane storage requirements and signal complexity now at the Ashley River Road- Sam Rittenburg Intersection. Consider on an average weekday morning that the proposed at-grade Parkway-Riverland Drive Intersection will be as congested as the current Folly-Camp Intersection is on a Saturday afternoon.

Using just the predicted traffic volumes published in previous I-526 studies, all of the proposed at-grade, signalized intersections will be over their design capacity for these type intersections on their first day of operation. Islanders can only hope that the traffic engineers tapped to design these new Parkway intersections on James and Johns Islands aren’t the same RoadWise (an oxymoron if there ever was one) engineers who designed the recently completed signalized blunders at the Folly and Maybank Intersection.

Notwithstanding the predictable traffic congestion at the proposed Parkway intersections on James Island, Riverland Drive and several other scenic oak-lined, narrow roadways in the as yet unspoiled southwest part of James Island will be subjected to significantly increased volumes of traffic. Improved accessibility to the few remaining rural, historically African American communities will increase development pressures and the inevitable consequences of gentrification. The remaining portions of the Dill Wildlife Sanctuary will also come under increased pressure for development. Its protective will was broken once and could be again.

The current I-526 Parkway proposal is just the tip of a massive underlying conglomeration of unintended, and possibly covertly intended, consequences, which now threaten the unique way of life that still tenuously remains on James and Johns Islands. The least that SCDOT and elected officials should do is no further harm to the irreplaceable uniqueness of these historic Sea Islands.

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