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County Council, September 24

Tentative steps to building flyover at Highway 17 and Main Road
Camp Road library branch may not close
Warwick Jones

It was fun and games during one part of yesterday’s Finance Committee meeting. But more of that later. The most important item discussed at the meeting was the flyover on Route 17 at its intersection with Main Road.

The Committee considered the flyover option at its previous meeting and although there was probably unanimous agreement that it was the best option to solve the traffic congestion, the issue was tabled. The cost of the flyover was an estimated $50 million and there was no certain way the project could be funded. It was finding an answer to the funding question that daunted the Committee.

Over the last two weeks, Council Chairman Summey met with members of the Legislative Delegation. From the discussion last night, it seems the County was advised to approve the flyover project and the State would pick up the tab. The latter was not a promise, but a handshake over the good intentions of Delegation members. And some Committee members were skeptical.

The actual agenda item was not the approval of the flyover, but approval to apply the funding directed to the design and construction of the “super street”, now discredited, to the funding of the flyover. The County had committed $1.5 million to the “super street” project. The Committee also wanted to be sure that no liability to the SCDOT remained if the Committee scrapped the “super street” project.

By way of background, the “super street” was approved by Council in 2013. The implementation of the plan was in the hands of the SCDOT which was also to provide funding for the $3.5 million project. Because of local opposition and the need to comply with Federal Laws relating to such opposition, the DOT refrained from moving ahead. Under the original plan, construction of the “super street” would have begun last year. If not for the proposed abandonment of the project, staff anticipated that construction would have begun next year.

When the issue came up for a vote, three members (Johnson, Pryor and Darby) of the Committee voted against the financing switch. It was not only concern over financing the flyover but the fact that the traffic congestion issue and that of flooding would not be immediately addressed. The flyover plan could take some years to implement. In the meantime, Johns Island residents would continue to confront congestion and indeed, considering the anticipated large increase in dwelling construction, congestion problems could be exacerbated.

Although the majority of Committee members voted for the redirection of funds, many if not all were still concerned about funding the flyover and drainage changes – the cost of which is now projected by staff at up to $65 million. Council member Condon suggested that another half-cent sales tax was necessary to fund this project and others. And there was also the unasked question about whether the State could be trusted whatever was said.

At the request of Committee member Qualey, the retention of the existing library on Camp Road on James Island was placed on the agenda. Some months ago, Council debated as to the best location for the new library on the island and after fractious discussion, decided on a site on Grimball Road. The branch at Camp Road was to be closed.

Council member Qualey said there was a lot of opposition to the closure from the residents of James Island in his district and he was seeking approval to keep it open. The cost to the County would be about $1.5 million in upgrades and running costs of about $500,000 to $600,000 a year.

Committee members Johnson and Darby were very vocal in their opposition to the suggestion. The new library was only 3 miles away. It was a waste of tax payers’ money to maintain the old library. Besides, the issue had already been addressed and voted on, why bring it up again?

Committee member Darby who was clearly provoked, told the Chair that if items could so simply be brought up for another vote, he was going to ask that I-526 be put back on the agenda. Chairman Summey was clearly discomfited by the suggestion knowing the issue would generate heat and flames, and nothing much else. He aggressively defended the mechanism of placing items on the agenda and ended his defense with a threat to those that placed him in a corner. In our view, he was in a corner and he spoke too strongly. To his credit, he apologized to Committee members at the close of the session about his threat and said that the placement of items on the agenda would continue as before. But he also said that I-526 negotiations were at a critical stage implying that nothing should be done to upset them.

The discussion on the library was long. Questions were asked at to whether the town of James Island would be prepared to bear the running costs ( unlikely ), the precedent of having two branches in a n area ( yes, in Mount Pleasant), synergies possible with the operation of two branches close together( not likely).

We are not sure what the final motion was but staff was directed to look into something and the vote was 5 to 4 in favor. The five in favor were happy to keep the Camp Road branch open. But a decision should be deferred until there was a clear idea as to whether there was going to be a surplus after meeting all of the other commitments for the funds from the Library bond/sales tax. If there were a sufficient surplus, the five in favor would keep the library open. But as Committee member Schweers noted, Council today cannot commit a future Council to such an action.

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