I don't support the completion of 1-526 for countless reasons, but my biggest is the intersection of Folly and Maybank Road.
This double intersection made no sense to begin with. To get to Maybank Highway (which T-bones into Folly Road), you first had to take a left onto Old Folly Road across two lanes of 40 mph traffic, then take a left onto Maybank across two more lanes of backed-up cars, which were always stopped at the Folly and Maybank light. It was a pain in the ass.
When I voted, along with a majority of Charleston County residents, to approve the half-cent sales tax in 2004 for much-needed roadway improvements (more than one billion dollars over 25 years) I had that stupid double-left-turn intersection in mind. Indeed, Maybank and Folly were first on the list, and I confidently voted yes to fix that shit up.
Unfortunately, after months of public meetings, lots of input from the City of Charleston, millions of dollars, the relocation of McDonald's, and round-the-clock work, the intersection was unveiled with two new stoplights and lots of pretty landscaping. Oh, and some sidewalks to nowhere too.
The double intersection remained. I couldn't believe it. Now, instead of beating the traffic to cross a total of four lanes of cars to get to Maybank, you have to sit and wait at numerous lights, which backs traffic down Folly Road, blocking yet more intersections. Oh, and that pretty landscaping? Totally impedes your view. Want to take a left without the green arrow? Good luck. You probably can't see the oncoming traffic, and watch out 'cause there's gonna be a line of cars backed up on Old Folly Road. Speaking of Old Folly Road. Is it on the national historic register or something? Why couldn't they just do away with it and let cars turn safely and quickly at the intersection of Maybank and Folly?
The problem with Roadwise, the county organization in charge of the half-cent sales tax money, is that they're putting window dressing on poorly designed roads. Take a look at Johnnie Dodds. The pointless frontage road system is not going away (maybe it worked well back when the population was zilch but I doubt it). Instead they're adding traffic lights to each double intersection along the way, which will result in — you guessed it — traffic backing up onto Johnnie Dodds. Don't fool yourself into thinking that they'll time the lights properly to prevent that from happening. Expect Johnnie Dodds to remain a hateful road after months of public meetings, millions of dollars, and round-the-clock work. The scary thing is they want to give us another Johnnie Dodds on James Island. I guess satisfying his cronies on Kiawah is on Joe Riley's mayoral bucketlist. Why else would the guy in charge of the City of Charleston want to take on building this highway — I mean, boulevard? You know what a boulevard is? A place to stroll along the water.
Let's think about Riley being in charge of road-building for a minute. The guy has worked within blocks of his home for nearly 40 years. He doesn't have to drive to get to work. He doesn't have to race home to meet the kids at the bus stop. He doesn't have to swing out to Johns Island on his way to work to buy some bales of hay for his stupid chickens. He has no idea what the reality is for people in suburban Charleston on a daily basis. If he did, he wouldn't be supporting, indeed building, this road. That, or maybe he really does hate James Island.
I've got some predictions for the unintended consequences of 1-526 (which will obviously be built now because Joe wants it so. He's already having sit-down meetings with the Post and Courier and members of County Council. Backroom deals are being brokered as you read this).
First, the good stuff. There will be lots of landscaping and trees (a la the Crosstown). There will probably be bike lanes and perhaps sidewalks (it is a boulevard after all). And the rich people on Kiawah, the Beach Company, and those poor West Ashleyans will be appeased.
But now for the reality. Traffic will move slowly. We don't want a 55 mph connector to town, we want people to calmly drive like little old ladies and take their time getting to lunch with the gals. Unfortunately, there are more people like me, trying to get to meetings, the office, school, etc., so this road is being "designed" for the Charleston of 1976 not 2012 and certainly not 2020.
And ultimately, James Islanders will be screwed the most. Those numbers of 36 seconds saved getting downtown? Total hooey. My current commute to work is between eight and 10 minutes. I live off of Harbor View and work on Morrison Drive (along with two of my neighbors). It's not a bad commute. I get to enjoy the peace and quiet of James Island. I get to marvel at the beautiful view every morning. It's not bad at all. Indeed, it's why I chose to live on James Island.
But back to those 36 seconds. Do you really think the cars flowing onto the James Island connector from West Ashley will not cost me time?
Here's what's going to happen. All the folks who chose to live way the hell out Hwy. 17, not because they wanted to but because real estate prices dictated it, will decide to use the fancy new I-526, formerly the James Island connector, which will dump them on Calhoun Street or Lockwood. Both of these downtown roads are already at their limit in the mornings and afternoons. How do you justify dumping that traffic onto poorly designed downtown roads that Mayor Riley and his team have engineered for traffic calming (ie. not moving unimpeded to your destination)? Mark my words, it will be a nightmare of epic proportions.
Who's doing an environmental study on the impact of thousands more cars backing up from downtown onto the connector each morning. You can bet traffic will clog all the way back to my street off of Harbor View Road on James Island. And don't get me started on Roadwise's plans for Harbor View. It's a classic game of prettifying something without fixing the underlying problem of the road. The easiest way to solve that road's problems is to get rid of the four-to-two-lane slow down by widening the road across the bridge over the creek and maybe putting in a right turn lane or roundabout for North Shore Drive. Instead, they're spending millions adding stoplights, turning lanes, landscaping, and the like. The ultimate result? Same old traffic. Same old problem. But now with flowers!
When will we stop hiring scabs to put band-aids on our roads and find someone with some decent engineering design skills to fix the underlying problems (can you say dangerously short merge lanes on 1-26?). Riley is not that guy. Don't let him build 1-526.