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County Council, October 14.

Yet another plan for Mark Clark expressway
DOT’s proposal looks dead!

Warwick Jones

And so it goes on. The issue of the extension of the Mark Clark expressway remains unresolved. It does seem that the proposal of the State Department of Transport (DOT) is dead. But what will be built in its stead, or indeed if anything will be built, remains unresolved.

The DOT looked at 39 alternatives in considering the route and nature of the new road, a spokesman for the Department said. A full expressway would have cost $600 million or more. The road way proposed (Alternative G) was the least expensive but still woild cost $489 million.

After hearing a presentation prepared by the DOT, Council asked the Department to look a extending the Mark Clark from it present terminus on Highway 17, across west Ashley and onto Johns Island but terminating at the Stono River. The highway would not extend on to James Island as proposed in the plan proposed by DOT. However it would extend to River Road which would be widened to the Betsy Kerrison. Press Download file to see Route proposed by DOT (yellow) and that suggested by Council (hatched black)

The DOT spokesman stated that it could take 12 to 18 months to complete and analysis of the proposed route and the other requests of Council. He also warned that the opportunity for funding could be lost if the original purpose of the Mark Clark extension – to enhance mobility in a regional manner- was not to be fulfilled. He could also have added that the DOT was putting the hard word on the County to make up its mind on proceeding with the Mark Clark, other wise it could lose the funding opportunity. We'd add the present head of the DOT is "Buck" Limehouse, a native of Charleston. He steps down at the end of the year and his replacement may not have the same warm feelings to the region.

The DOT presentation covered the results of the public hearings it conducted in relation to the Mark Clark extension. The presentation document can be seen by pressing Download file

As evident in the document, 1657 individuals made comments and of the total, 1033 indicated opposition to the proposal, 522 support and 102 had only suggestion and comments. The spokesman also asked the question that although 62% of the respondents were opposed, to what extent did this represent the opinion of the some 600,000 that lived in the region?

After the presentation, Council member Summey made the proposal to limit construction to West Ashley and Johns Island. He suggested that this section of the proposed Mark Clark extension was expected to experience the larger proportion of projected traffic flow. In the subsequent discussion, it was noted that the cost of Alternative G had an estimated cost of $489 million, $69 million more that the $420 million available from the state Infrastructure Bank. Where was the extra $69 million coming from? Council member Rawl estimated the construction of the road proposed would be about $310 million, according to the Post and Courier.

Council also asked the DOT to study improving existing roads within the scope of the project and the new “Way to Work” concept as proposed by the Coastal Conservation League. The latter concept envisages the creation of a number of smaller roads leading onto the highway to lessen concentration on any one road. The hope of Council was to apply the difference between $420 million and the cost of the truncated Mark Clark extension to improving existing roads or building new small roads.

Council member Schweers was chagrined that Council voted on the issue after noting that Chairman Pryor had indicated that the presentation was for information purposes only, and that no vote would be taken. The Chair defended himself saying that the vote had not taken the issue forward. He might have added that the issue will be voted at the Council meeting on Tuesday when most Council members should be present. Council members Inabinett, McKeown and Darby did not attend yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting. Council member Darby is unlikely to attend the Council meeting as he is recovering from an accident.

Although the nail was not firmly nailed into the coffin last night, we think the DOT’s recommended proposal to complete the Mark Clark is dead. Council members one way or another have indicated their opposition to it. Some may have been swayed by public opposition, by the possible adverse impact on the rural environment of Johns Island, congestion on James Island, or simply the cost and the burden placed on the County.

But it is also clear that members do not want to lose $420 million of state spending and the benefits that go with it. It remains to be seen as to whether the DOT or the Infrastructure Bank will be so obliging.

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