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County Council, September 15

SC DOT opinion sought on Legare Bridge lane closure
Issues over Community Investment allocations
Warwick Jones

The creation of a bike lane by the closure of a traffic lane on the Legare Bridge was the most important item on last night’s agenda. It seemed to us that most Council members were unhappy about the proposal but did not want to pull the trigger to kill it. Instead, they voted to approve a motion by Council member Pryor - to ask the Department of Transportation (SC DOT) if the lane closure was viable and the bridge was structurally sound, and as such, could the SC DOT approve the construction plans as in the MOU with the City of Charleston, the County and the SC DOT?

Council member Qualey was the most adamant of those opposed to closing the traffic lane, citing the considerable delays suffered by James and Johns Islanders during the test period. He also spoke of the considerable development on the islands and the added traffic in future. Despite his opposition to the closure, he said he would support Council members Pryor’s motion. Council members Sass and Johnson confessed to views similar to those of Council member Qualey.

In the discussion, there were also questions about the life of the bridge, future congestion on the roads leading to the bridge and the likelihood of the SCDOT requiring the bike land to be turned back to a traffic lane within a few years.

Council member Schweers was skeptical about the closure and stated that it really was a City of Charleston issue. Council member Condon was the only vote against asking the SCDOT for an opinion but during the discussion, questioned traffic priorities on Folly Road just before the Bridge.

We think that if a motion were made to create a bike lane on the Legare Bridge, it would have failed. The question in our mind is why wasn’t there such a motion?

The motion and the vote followed an hour long executive session which included discussion of the lane closure. No doubt there was sensitivity to the fact that the City of Charleston had voted to create the bike lane. And maybe there was some legal liability if the County failed to follow up on the City’s decision. Consequently, an adverse opinion by the SC DOT would take the County off the hook.

We can make no comment on the County’s legal liability. But we would note that the City approved the creation of a bike lane in a 7 to 6 vote. Two of the City Councilmembers who voted for the bike lane (Mitchell and Lewis) said that the decision was really not for the City, but for the County to make. It follows, that if these two Council members continue to hold their views, there should be no issue if the County decided against the creation of a bike lane – 6 City Council members opposed to the lane and 2 who feel it is a County decision.

In a presentation by the consultant, if a decision were made to proceed with the conversion, the bike lane could be operating by February 2018. The cost of the conversion was an estimated $2 million of which only $700,000 has been budgeted.
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Councilmember Johnson’s nose was clearly out of joint. She proposed some major changes before the County’s Administration Policy/Rules Committee. What prompted the proposal was not known to us but became clear, or at least clearer, during last night’s meeting of the Committee. Chairman Summey notified all Council members that he was meeting with the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to discuss the I- 526 issue. Council member Johnson thought this was an invitation to attend. It was not and Council member Johnson felt slighted.

Obviously irked, Council member Johnson proposed some changes – one of which was that all Council members were allowed to attend meetings of Committees and agencies, and particularly if the issues related to a Council member’s district. Such meetings were to be treated as confidential and a Council member who breached this rule would be barred by the Chairman from attending future meetings. She proposed more but much was already incorporated in Council Rules and Administration.

Committee Chairman Rawl warned of all the issues that would be raised by what was proposed. We suspect that most members of Council needed no warning. But Chairman Rawl did confess that there were holes in the rules and proceedings relating to attendance and reporting results of meetings with agencies and County Committees. He asked the County Attorney attempt to address some of these issues.

The meeting then developed into a dispute between Council Chair Summey and Council member Johnson. Chair Summey, and supported by Council member Pryor, argued that it was not feasible to have a number of Council members in attendance at meetings such as with the SIB. Council member Johnson expressed resentment at what she perceived as a slight. It was all too much for Chairman Rawl who closed down the Committee meeting.
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Earlier this year, staff was tasked to devise an equitable procedure to determine allocations under the County’s Community Investment Program. This they did and last night, they again presented the recommendations for allocations from the $300,000 funding for 2017. Download file

Council was still not happy. The allocation procedure focused on creditworthiness and size. It needed to focus more on the community and specific objectives, the latter to be better determined by the County. And organizations that had received funding from other programs of the County should be excluded.
Back to the drawing board.

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