Protestors stood outside Charleston City Hall on Wednesday holding signs calling for the demise of the Interstate 526 project. (Photo/Lauren Ratcliffe)
By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Nov. 14, 2012
Charleston City Council voted 11-2 in favor of a resolution to ask Charleston County Council to give sponsorship of the Interstate 526 project to the city. The vote came after more than three hours of public comments and debate among council members.
Before the meeting, protestors stood outside City Hall in the cold drizzle holding signs calling for the project’s demise.
Inside City Council chambers, it was standing-room only. Supporters and opponents of the project came to voice their opinions on a proposal put forth by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
Riley’s proposal was that the City Council pass a resolution asking Charleston County Council to give up its sponsorship of the completion of I-526. The city would take over sponsorship and complete the remaining seven miles of roadway connecting Savannah Highway to the James Island Connector.
Fifty-four people voiced their opinions before City Council with 19 in favor of completing the interstate and 35 in opposition. Those in favor cited public safety and traffic congestion as reasons to complete the road. Opponents discussed the rural way of life on Johns and James islands, the price tag and a desire to focus on existing infrastructure.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis spoke out in favor of the project. He said he came to dispel mistruths about funding for the project and urge council to ask for control of the roadway.
“The opposition to this project is very passionate, very organized,” he said. “Good people who have a strongly held belief that this project should not go forward.”
When Stavrinakis began to say he found overwhelming support for the project he was interrupted by a woman shouting from the balcony. Mayor Riley reprimanded her and told the crowd to be civil.
“We cannot allow anyone to be interrupted while they are speaking,” Riley said.
Stavrinakis said the project should be completed because it is fully funded and those funds can’t be used elsewhere.
“The money at issue here is not transferrable to local projects or to road improvements at all,” he said. “If that is your thinking, it is wrong.”
When the council members debated whether to ask the county for control of the project, many members said they felt that regardless of their personal beliefs they had seen majority support for the project in their districts and felt obligated to vote as such.
“This might not be a perfect plan, but right now it’s the only plan,” said Councilman Marvin Wagner. “The people of District 5 are saying build the road. Regardless of what my personal opinions are, I have no choice.”
Only council members Blake Hallman and William Gregorie opposed the resolution. Hallman said he voted against taking on the project because there are too many unknowns — mostly budgetary — for him to feel comfortable with the project. He also wanted to prioritize other infrastructure projects ahead of the interstate.
Gregorie said he, too, believed there were too many unknowns related to the project. Should County Council agree to let the city take over the project, he said he would reconsider his position as more information is made available.
The fate of the roadway will again be debated in Charleston County Council as early as next month.