Infrastructure, the completion of I-526, and the need for greater regional inter-governmental cooperation were identified as top local issues by a panel of elected officials at a Charleston Leaders’ issues breakfast held this morning at the Charleston Marriott.
Moderated by local business coach Thomas Heath, the panel featured Charleston County Councilman Brantley Moody, City of Charleston Councilman William A. “Bill” Moody, Jr., City of North Charleston Councilman Ron Brinson, and Town of Mt. Pleasant Councilman Mark Smith.
“Greater Charleston is infrastructure-challenged,” said Bill Moody, saying that it’s so obvious he feels like he “just told Noah about the flood.”
On that note, every one of the panel members spoke in favor of the completion of I-526, a roadway that Brinson said has been talked about by local politicians for decades.
The project would complete the roadway by extending I-526 from West Ashley to James and Johns Islands. The total cost is estimated to be $750 million, and the current fight is whether or not the state infrastructure bank will release a previously promised $420 million in funding for the project.
“I call the roadway ‘263’ because it’s only half-completed,” joked Bill Moody.
When asked what attendees could do to advocate for the project, if funding was being "held hostage" by upstate legislators, Moody urged those in attendance to continue to raise the issue every time they see local legislators, specifically naming state senators Larry Grooms (R-37) and Sandy Senn (R-41).
Brantley Moody expressed optimism that Governor McMaster recently replaced Vincent Graham as head of the state infrastructure bank with attorney John B. White, who Moody described as more “pro-business.”
Smith said the region’s infrastructure and traffic challenges could also be eased by streamlining state and federal regulations.
“From the time we announce funding for a project, it takes five years before that project is actually shovel-ready,” said Smith, explaining that, while he believes many of these regulations are important, the process needs to be made more efficient to enable projects to be completed sooner.
Smith and Brantley Moody both cited local activist groups as a challenge to local economic development and infrastructure projects.
“We have a small but vocal group of people who want to slam the door shut,” said Moody. “Closing the door is not an option.”
Smith urged local small business people to get active by attending the meetings to provide a counterweight to the activist groups. He also urged those in the room to consider running for public office.
“Step up and serve your community,” said Smith. “We need quality people (in government) if we are going to live, work and thrive.”
All of the panel members called for greater cooperation between local town, city and county governments, as well as a longer-term, comprehensive plan for the region.
“What is our 50 year plan for the region?” asked Brinson. “Do we have a plan, or will we just wander in the future like we have in the past?”