We've all heard the good news about the City of Charleston finally getting the money to fix the Crosstown, and we've all heard about Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.'s role in securing these funds. But what we haven't heard until now is the critical role that Charleston's black leaders played in all of this.
For many years, the West Side community has been asking for a fix that would end the Crosstown flooding long before it became an issue in the mainstream press — or in a mayoral election. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, City Councilman James Lewis, City Councilman Robert Mitchell, state Sen. Robert Ford, and West Side Neighborhood Association President Arthur P. Lawrence ought to be commended for laying the groundwork that paved the way for this issue to finally be solved.
When Gilliard was a city councilman, he asked Mayor Riley and Council to approve a trip to Washington, D.C. with Lewis and Mitchell to ask then-Congressman Henry Brown for his help in securing federal money that would address the Crosstown's woes. While Brown came through with some funds, it was not enough to complete the project. But Gilliard, Mitchell, and Lewis kept at it.
The three councilmen, led by Gilliard, brought the issue up repeatedly on City Council, and for their efforts, they got the City to study the matter and develop a plan for the funding, design, and build phases of the project. Following the urging of Gilliard, the City Council also raised the stormwater fee with new revenue allocated to the Crosstown drainage problem. After the motion passed, Gilliard took the heat for the fee increase. Meanwhile, West Side President Lawrence kept sounding the alarm about the Crosstown, bringing flooding photos to council, speaking out, and raising the issue during every local election.
When Gilliard was elected to the Statehouse, he joined with Sen. Ford and Rep. Chip Limehouse to seek funding from the State Infrastructure Bank. Working with Mayor Riley and Lawrence, Rep. Gilliard also made a video telling the long history of the Crosstown and the ongoing problems that it has posed for the residents living in and around it, as well as the thousands who drive the stretch of road every day.
In 2009, Gilliard introduced a resolution designed to encourage both state and federal government to seek out money for improving the Crosstown. It passed in the House and Senate. Gilliard also wrote a letter to the State Infrastructure Bank asking it to approve funds for the completion of the project. On Feb. 10, 2012, the State Infrastructure Bank approved the $88 million that was needed to complete the Crosstown project
As I've said before, we need to keep our elected officials accountable, and when they are not on task, we need to let them know. The flip side to that is when they are on task, we need to let them know that as well. Mayor Riley, who should be commended as well for keeping his promise to voters, wrote a letter to Rep. Gilliard and called him personally to thank him for the work he did on this issue. Taking the mayor as an example, we should all thank Rep. Gilliard, City Councilman Lewis, City Councilman Mitchell, Sen. Robert Ford, and Arthur P. Lawrence for their leadership, perseverance, and hard work in seeing this project through to the end.
We live in a time when everyone is critical of elected officials, and while some of the criticism is more than warranted, it is refreshing to see Charleston's leaders do the job they were chosen to do. For once, a promise made was a promise kept.