The compromise proposal for the completion of I-526 presented by the City of Charleston and Charleston County to the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) is a sign of collaborative progress, said the head of a local business group, who suggested it should be acted upon in concert with other policy priorities to deal with the region’s growth.
“The extension of I-526 is vital,” said Marc Fetten, chair of the Trident CEO Council, told Palmetto Business Daily. “Just as its vital for our local policymakers to take a big-picture view of the challenges facing our region and take a wholistic approach to addressing our traffic, infrastructure and development challenges.”
Last week, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and Charleston County Council Chair Elliott Summey sent a joint letter to the SIB board offering a compromise plan to secure $420 million in money that has been tagged for the extension of I-526 (the Mark Clark Expressway.)
“The SIB has articulated two primary concerns regarding the completion of the Mark Clark Extension project, those being the unknown legal costs that may be incurred arising from the permitting process, and the ability or willingness of the SIB to fund the entire project,” wrote Tecklenburg and Summey in the letter. “Our proposal alleviates each of these concerns.”
“As for legal fees associated with the permitting process, Charleston County will commit to pay them,” continues the letter. “As for funding, we propose current SIB funding in the amount of $420 million. This amount will enable the construction of the Extension to be phased, with phase one being from the existing terminus of the Mark Clark at US 17 in West Ashley to the planned connections on John’s Island in the vicinity of Maybank Highway.”
“Phase two would be the completion of the Extension from John’s Island to James Island.”
Fetten said his organization supports the proposal and pointed to an August 22, 2016 letter in which the council urged the SIB to support the Mark Clark Extension project.
He added, however, that city, county and state leaders should continue the spirit of collaboration to “move the region forward.”
“The 526 extension is a major piece of this, but so is fixing the remainder of our local roads through passage of the half-cent sales tax,” added Fetten. “We also need forward-looking policies that embrace smart density to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion; develop a long-term funding solution for our highways through an increase in the state fuel user fee; create mass transit options; and, champion public-private partnerships that protect our green spaces, marshes and waterways.”
He stressed that both the state fuel user fee increase and the local sales tax were necessary to build and repair the statewide and local infrastructure needs necessary for a growing economy.
“Efficient markets require connectivity,” explained Fetten. “In Charleston, that means connectivity between workers and their workplaces, students and schools, and businesses and consumers.”
Right now, he said, the connectivity is so impeded by our inadequate infrastructure that traffic is horrible, roads are increasingly unsafe, and some construction companies are forced to run cement trucks at night to avoid getting caught in traffic delays during the day.
Fetten noted that the challenges will only grow, given the Charleston metro region’s population is expected to climb from a little more than 700,000 residents today to more than 1 million by 2027.
“We’ve seen that a piecemeal approach simply doesn’t work, allows politics to slow things down, and doesn’t address the growing list of challenges facing our region,” said Fetten. “But wouldn’t it be great if we built momentum for a comprehensive approach that deals with these future challenges now, so we don’t have to pay the price later?”
The Trident CEO Council consists of business leaders from across the Charleston. The organization’s motto is to “Stand for Progress,” and its Web site lists thirteen separate priorities for the Charleston metro region.