A battle is being waged in South Carolina
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    MAR. 1, 2009
A battle is being waged in South Carolina regarding a highway proposal that epitomizes the larger choices the nation faces on infrastructure investments. The highway is an extension of a beltway, I-526, that encircles much of Charleston, South Carolina. The extension was first conceived in the 1970s, and a recent study by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments found that if it were built, nearly all the existing congestion would persist and traffic would get worse in places, according to John Norquist, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism. The plan includes two large bridges over the Stono River, which is more than a quarter-mile wide at that point. “That this boondoggle remains under consideration at all is a real head-scratcher,” Norquist wrote in an op-ed piece for the Charleston Post and Courier. “It creates a diversion alright, but it’s mostly in the budget for public infrastructure. While hundreds of millions are spent to build the expressway (in 1995 it was estimated to cost $420 million), hundreds of smaller street and road projects will have to wait for funding.” The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, an environmental group that has been a leader in land use issues, hired transportation planners Glatting Jackson of Orlando, Florida, to create an alternative plan. The plan calls for targeted improvements at congested intersections in the area and a network of smaller streets to give drivers more choices of routes. The $220 million plan would relieve congestion and promote economic development, the league says. It was submitted to the State Department of Transportation, which is proposing the highway extension. Meanwhile, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley supports a third alternative, a parkway along the proposed highway route. Riley says the city needs another hurricane evacuation route.