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Charleston native

Should I-526 finally be completed?

Should the Mark Clark Expressway, also known as I-526, be completed to finish the interstate beltway through the Charleston area?  

37 members have voted

  1. 1. Should the Mark Clark Expressway, also known as I-526, be completed to finish the interstate beltway through the Charleston area?

    • Yes
      28
    • No
      9


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This poll is for an issue that, for some strange reason, has been around for a long time. The Mark Clark Expressway was planned approximately 25 years ago, and it still is not completed. It was planned and built with the intention of creating a complete beltway around the city, but the people on Johns Island have protested building the last leg which would complete it because since the route would go in and out of the island, they are afraid the island's "rural" character will be ruined. IMO, this final section of I-526 needs to be completed. It would ease the traffic that accumulates at the intersection of US 17 and Wesley Drive (SC 171) because it would divert traffic going to Kiawah, Johns, or Seabrook Island which normally has to go there to get to the island. As for the expressway ruining the rural character, I think there will be only minimal damage to this. Many steps are being taken to keep the island in a "rural" setting, and there will only be one interchange to get on and off Johns Island at Maybank Highway (SC 700), thereby limiting developers with accessibility.

When submitting your poll answer, please state why or why not the Mark Clark should be completed.

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This poll was inspired by a P & C article which brings up this issue since funding is starting to be allocated for the project. In the article link below, Charleston officials are moving to submit an application to the state Infrastructure Bank in hopes of getting money to complete the traffic loop around the metropolitan area with the last leg of the Mark Clark Expressway and to widen U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant between Interstate 526 and the new bridge. They're hoping that by combining the projects, it will speed up the approval process to get construction started.

Dana Beach, of the Coastal Conservation League and who has opposed other road-building projects and other common sense developments, is already voicing his concerns, of course. I don't think he should be whining about how the I-526 project will harm the area, considering that the new half-cent sales tax is supposed to allocate around $250 million for parks, land preservation, and "greenbelt" space.

Officials try to merge road projects

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I think it definately should be built. It is such a critical part of the "beltway" idea. John's Island won't stay rural forever. Development will reach it sooner or later.... its just a matter of time. I think that it would be beneficial to tthe area to have 1 exit to their area.

The downside is that the 1 exit will create LOTS of sprawl on the island. No questions about it. Being so close to downtown on 526 with the ease of access to the rest of the city, how coudl a developer pass that up?

Most of the developed parts of Johns Island are already withing the city limits of Charleston, so if Charleston could annex the rest of the Island, the growth could conceivably be controlled in a healthy way.

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The downside is that the 1 exit will create LOTS of sprawl on the island. No questions about it. Being so close to downtown on 526 with the ease of access to the rest of the city, how coudl a developer pass that up?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

If Johns Island residents are able to stop the construction of the 30" waterline, development could be restricted to the area laid out in the Urban Growth Boundary. Otherwise, all bets are off.

As far as 526, I think its construction is inevitable, and could bring a lot of benefit as far as being able to access all of the city quickly. However, I don't think it'll lessen traffic as much as some people think. If you're commuting home from downtown to West Ashley, you'll still have to exit 526 and travel on clogged roads like Highways 17 or 61 to get home. If you add all the new homes that'll be built because traffic will be "better" for awhile, you'll pretty much be back to square one after 10 years or so. Until the city and county figure out how to say no to developers before roads get to the breaking point, we're always going to have developers who pack the maximum amount of traffic onto a road. It's practically a law of nature.

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As Spartan said, the unbuilt segment through Johns Island will most definatly attract sprawl. One great benefit of building it would improve hurricane evacuation so US 17 and Folly Beach Road will not see a great burden of vehicles during an evacuation. An idea that could work is not allowing 50-100 unit developments but only allowing restricted residential development such as 3+ acre residential lots.

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If Johns Island residents are able to stop the construction of the 30" waterline, development could be restricted to the area laid out in the Urban Growth Boundary. Otherwise, all bets are off.

As far as 526, I think its construction is inevitable, and could bring a lot of benefit as far as being able to access all of the city quickly. However, I don't think it'll lessen traffic as much as some people think. If you're commuting home from downtown to West Ashley, you'll still have to exit 526 and travel on clogged roads like Highways 17 or 61 to get home. If you add all the new homes that'll be built because traffic will be "better" for awhile, you'll pretty much be back to square one after 10 years or so. Until the city and county figure out how to say no to developers before roads get to the breaking point, we're always going to have developers who pack the maximum amount of traffic onto a road. It's practically a law of nature.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, I see your point to an extent, but I think traffic heading from DT to West Ashley might not be as bad exiting onto US 17. WA is large enough and has the best infrastructure in the area to accomodate the changes in the traffic patterns. You will have less people using SC 61 and US 17 to get to James Island and Johns Island. However, I do see your point about the traffic on SC 61. It would be placing part of the current traffic jam onto another part of the highway, mainly around Glenn McConnell Parkway.

I think Johns Island will be a slightly suburban bedroom community in the next 5-10 years. Even with no I-526 going by it, the island is still experiencing new neighborhoods and new shopping centers being built. As Spartan earlier stated, if more of the island were in the city of Charleston, the city would be able to zone bigger parcels of the island to limit large development. Currently, you have alot of the county handling zoning, and they do not enforce zoning laws as well as the city.

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I would disagree that the county is less effective in enforcing zonng laws. I also think it is counter-intuitive for a city to annex and area and then zone it for low density development. Current development patterns on Johns Island extend along Maybank Hwy out of James Island with a smattering way out by Kiawah. The reason for this is that these areas are relatively accessible (either to downtown or the islands). Extending the Mark Clark would undoubltedly make the island more accessible and therefore lead to more development. I also don't see any great improvement on local traffic patterns. I could see it relieving some of the beach traffic from parts of Folly Road.

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^ So do you think that I-526 should not be extended, and they should leave the roads as they are? How do you feel that the county is as effective with is zoning laws? Talk about counter-intuitive...I feel that is is ridiculous to allow for building neighborhoods and shopping centers outdside of city limits, yet the water lines have to come directly from the city and "borrowed" into other water management companies such as St. Johns. Counties should be in more control in areas far from the urban area and rural communities.

With the city in control of Johns Island, I think more care will be given to limit development. The county has shown a lack of control when it comes to development, and James Island is a perfect example. Many of James Island's neighborhoods and shopping centers were built with county zoning, before the city ever annexed the area.

Anyway, you're correct about the current way the growth has occurred there, but I don't think that adding an entry and exit ramp on currently-traveled Maybank Highway will make the island explode with development. When I-526 opened in Mt. Pleasant, there were several entry points into the area, and I think that is what caused the town's massive growth. Johns Island will not experience this boom for 2 reasons: active zoning and limited access onto the island with only one entry point.

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Currently, about a quarter of Johns Island is zoned urban/suburban. I'd say only about 15-25% of this land has been developed so far.

UrbanJohnsIs.jpg

The brown area is a 2500 acre section that was moved from urban zoning back to rural. So far, I think Charleston County has been respectful of the rural areas on Johns Island. Extending 526 would rapidly cause the suburban area to fill in (unless a housing bust materializes, which is a possibiliy). If a 30" waterline is built, there will be constant pressure to extend the growth boundary outward, but it looks like the waterline opponents may be about to strike a deal that will prevent that from happening. Read an editorial about it here.

As far as traffic goes, no one's ever been able to come with a good reason why traffic is worse today than it was before 526 and Glenn McConnell were built. I heard an interesting stat the other day that people in Charleston are now driving three times more than they were before those roads were built, but I find that hard to believe. If so, it's truly scary. The case for more roads=more development is definitely Mount Pleasant. If you lived in Charleston ten years ago, you know what I mean.

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^ So do you think that I-526 should not be extended, and they should leave the roads as they are? How do you feel that the county is as effective with is zoning laws? Talk about counter-intuitive...I feel that is is ridiculous to allow for building neighborhoods and shopping centers outdside of city limits, yet the water lines have to come directly from the city and "borrowed" into other water management companies such as St. Johns. Counties should be in more control in areas far from the urban area and rural communities.

With the city in control of Johns Island, I think more care will be given to limit development. The county has shown a lack of control when it comes to development, and James Island is a perfect example. Many of James Island's neighborhoods and shopping centers were built with county zoning, before the city ever annexed the area.

Anyway, you're correct about the current way the growth has occurred there, but I don't think that adding an entry and exit ramp on currently-traveled Maybank Highway will make the island explode with development. When I-526 opened in Mt. Pleasant, there were several entry points into the area, and I think that is what caused the town's massive growth. Johns Island will not experience this boom for 2 reasons: active zoning and limited access onto the island with only one entry point.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

What evidence do you offer to suggest the county is amy moreor less restrictive than the city in zoning? The zoning regs are virtually identical, and I have found neither to be more flexible in skirting those rules than the others.

James Island, IMHO, is developed correctly. The island is largely residential with the main corridors as commercial. How else would you propose it develop? The biggest problem James Island faces is traffic...and alot of that traffic is flow through traffic to the beach.

As to the question at hand...I think there would be tremendous expense to complete the Mark Clark for limited benefit. I think it would also result in more rapid development of Johns Island.

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What evidence do you offer to suggest the county is amy moreor less restrictive than the city in zoning?  The zoning regs are virtually identical, and I have found neither to be more flexible in skirting those rules than the others.

James Island, IMHO, is developed correctly. The island is largely residential with the main corridors as commercial.  How else would you propose it develop?  The biggest problem James Island faces is traffic...and alot of that traffic is flow through traffic to the beach.

As to the question at hand...I think there would be tremendous expense to complete the Mark Clark for limited benefit.  I think it would also result in more rapid development of Johns Island.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, some James Islanders would disagree with your opinion of the area being developed correctly. ;) But I do agree with you; I'm just using the complaints of those people who use that line of reasoning to justify incorporating the area for the 3rd time. However, the city and county DO zone properties somewhat differently. For instance, the city requires any new neighborhoods or subdivisions to have sidewalks from the main artery road throughout the neighborhoods. The county does not mandate sidewalks, and one of the problems on the island is lack of walkable streets. Go down Fort Johnson Road, parts of Harborview Road, and even Folly Road, and you can almost tell which parts are in the city just from the sidewalks. The same thing is happening to Johns Island...it is lacking in walkable streets.

Finishing the Mark Clark may not be 100% necessary, but it would also improve access for many people on James, Johns, Kiawah, Seabrook, and Wadmalaw islands to the primary retail center in the area located West Ashley: Savannah Highway and Citadel Mall. I truly feel that traffic on Savannah Highway would be eased once the last leg was built...it is the only way to get around West Ashley from the islands. The Mark Clark beltway was planned 30 years ago, and it needs to be finished completely to give the metro area access to all different parts of the city.

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Well, some James Islanders would disagree with your opinion of the area being developed correctly.  ;)  But I do agree with you; I'm just using the complaints of those people who use that line of reasoning to justify incorporating the area for the 3rd time. However, the city and county DO zone properties somewhat differently. For instance, the city requires any new neighborhoods or subdivisions to have sidewalks from the main artery road throughout the neighborhoods. The county does not mandate sidewalks, and one of the problems on the island is lack of walkable streets. Go down Fort Johnson Road, parts of Harborview Road, and even Folly Road, and you can almost tell which parts are in the city just from the sidewalks. The same thing is happening to Johns Island...it is lacking in walkable streets.

Finishing the Mark Clark may not be 100% necessary, but it would also improve access for many people on James, Johns, Kiawah, Seabrook, and Wadmalaw islands to the primary retail center in the area located West Ashley: Savannah Highway and Citadel Mall. I truly feel that traffic on Savannah Highway would be eased once the last leg was built...it is the only way to get around West Ashley from the islands. The Mark Clark beltway was planned 30 years ago, and it needs to be finished completely to give the metro area access to all different parts of the city.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

point taken...although most James Islanders don't think the island developed wrong....they just think it developed too much....LOL. Like I said, I believe there will be some benefit, but I don't think it jutifies the cost to extend it....there are other places those dollars could be spent.

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point taken...although most James Islanders don't think the island developed wrong....they just think it developed too much....LOL.  Like I said, I believe there will be some benefit, but I don't think it jutifies the cost to extend it....there are other places those dollars could be spent.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Absolutely, but isn't that almost always the case when it comes to government projects? :lol:;) I see the main benefit of this highway completion as creating a better and faster route to the southeastern barrier islands of Charleston. Granted, it may not be as urgently needed like the Ravenel Bridge was, but it will alleviate traffic in parts of WA, which is needed. It allows for another hurricane evacuation route and completes a long-ago planned beltway for Charleston.

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Here is a great editorial from Ron Mitchum, the executive director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, that really illustrates my point about completing the Mark Clark Expressway on Johns and James Islands. In the editorial, he refutes Dana Beach's opinion of the I-526 extension to be wasteful in referencing the council's performance analysis of current roads. Important note: Dana Beach also used this study to justify his ridiculous opinion. Check out this quote:

With the Mark Clark, Savannah Highway would have around 11,000 fewer trips per day at its busiest point. The James Island Connector would have 19,000 fewer and Folly Road would have 16,000 fewer. It is true that Folly Road and Savannah Highway both have failing levels of service under both scenarios. But taking more than 10,000 trips from a road is not insubstantial.
This is a very good point. He also emphasizes how the Mark Clark completion would benefit other areas of Johns Island which are currently clogged with traffic:

The construction of the Mark Clark is estimated to decrease traffic on roads on upper Johns Island -- around 7,600 vehicles per day each on Main Road and upper River Road. The differences are even more substantial at the two bridges. At the Limehouse Bridge, the Mark Clark would result in 15,000 fewer trips. At the Stono River bridge, there would be 20,000 fewer.

This is a GREAT rebuttal editorial! I know some people would disagree with this opinion, but many people would agree that it is imperative to complete I-526.

Mark Clark would offer benefits to Johns Island

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Here is a great editorial from Ron Mitchum, the executive director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, that really illustrates my point about completing the Mark Clark Expressway on Johns and James Islands. In the editorial, he refutes Dana Beach's opinion of the I-526 extension to be wasteful in referencing the council's performance analysis of current roads. Important note: Dana Beach also used this study to justify his ridiculous opinion. Check out this quote:

I don't think Ron Mitchum's editorial was as stunning as you seem to think. Basically, Dan Beach says that I-526 won't have a huge net impact on reducing congestion. Ron Mitchum replies by saying it will help in some areas and hurt in others. Not exactly a slam-dunk rebuttal, is it?

Usually with these sort of point / counter-point arguments, the person who speaks last sounds like they won. If Dana Beach decided to respond to Mitchum's editorial, he'd probably be able to refute some of Mitchum's contentions. Usually Dana Beach's reasoning makes more sense than that of these politcal types anyway.

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Its been proven time and time again that beltways around cities do not reduce traffic congestion. If fact, because most local governments don't have the political will to resist the developers, beltways make congestion worse because you get endless big box and sprawling development springing up around them. You can't pave your way out of traffic congestion.

Charleston has one of the best examples of a proper city in North America on the pennisula. But from what I have seen its doing its best to reproduce the worst in North American cities with its highway building, land use policies, and complete lack of any transit planning. They really need to rethink the plan to finish this beltway and instead spend the money elsewhere.

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I don't think Ron Mitchum's editorial was as stunning as you seem to think.  Basically, Dan Beach says that I-526 won't have a huge net impact on reducing congestion. Ron Mitchum replies by saying it will help in some areas and hurt in others. Not exactly a slam-dunk rebuttal, is it?

Usually with these sort of point / counter-point arguments, the person who speaks last sounds like they won. If Dana Beach decided to respond to Mitchum's editorial, he'd probably be able to refute some of Mitchum's contentions. Usually Dana Beach's reasoning makes more sense than that of these politcal types anyway.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree with you, but Dana Beach said more than that. He also implied that the completion of the expressway would be a complete waste of taxpayers money because it would only slightly reduce traffic. Well, what's wrong with slightly reducing traffic? If city and county leaders did the right thing, this beltway would already be completed. Then, they could focus on growth control and other means of transportation like mass transit.

Call it my anal retentive nature, but I can't stand to think that this highway has been planned for literally decades, and it is not complete because of environmentalism and ruralism. Postponing the completion of I-526 is basically postponing the inevitable...eventual gridlock of US 17, SC 171, and the main thoroughfares on Johns Island, including SC 700 (Maybank Highway). What, we have to wait for it to get worse before we construct the project? Completion of the last leg of the Mark Clark is going to alleviate traffic temporarily, and there is no denying that. During this time period, leaders could start focusing on potential growth problems and alleviating future gridlock by starting mass transit projects like light rail, expanding CARTA, or providing a large number of park and ride lots for carpooling. Also, you have to acknowledge the fact that this last leg will significantly help with hurricane evacuation.

Anti-growth people are saying that I-526 will make Johns Island explode with growth; how is the lack of the highway preventing that now? Developers sure aren't being dissuaded by the nonexistence of the extension. New neighborhoods, shopping centers, and public facilities are being built there now. Traffic is near gridlock on all major roads going to and from the island. It is time to complete the circle around Charleston and allow for better access to all areas of the city.

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Traffic is near gridlock on all major roads going to and from the island. It is time to complete the circle around Charleston and allow for better access to all areas of the city.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

One way to minimize or avoid sprawl along the unbuilt I-526 through Johns Island is to not build any interchanges between US 17 and Folly Road. Beach traffic and evacuations will not have to use Folly Road up to US 17 via I-26 or Folly Road to SC 61 past US 17 towards Old Towne and Rittenburg to I-26 if that link is built.

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One way to minimize or avoid sprawl along the unbuilt I-526 through Johns Island is to not build any interchanges between US 17 and Folly Road. Beach traffic and evacuations will not have to use Folly Road up to US 17 via I-26 or Folly Road to SC 61 past US 17 towards Old Towne and Rittenburg to I-26 if that link is built.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

But you bypass any hurricane evacuation for Kiawah, Seabrook, Wadmalaw, and Johns Island, itself with that idea. I could compromise for it, but it would shortchange the residents of all those islands. Then you would have to funnel all traffic on Main Road to US 17, necessitating widening the road to not only 4 lanes, but eventually 6 lanes.

The only interchange planned on Johns Island is at SC 700 or Maybank Highway, and I think this is very reasonable. This "limits" access to Johns Island and will prevent the explosion of growth Mt. Pleasant experienced when I-526 was completed there. I believe there is also a law which states that you have to build an interchange when any new highway intersects with a state or US highway. I could be wrong on that, though.

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I agree with you, but Dana Beach said more than that. He also implied that the completion of the expressway would be a complete waste of taxpayers money because it would only slightly reduce traffic. Well, what's wrong with slightly reducing traffic?

The real question is whether it's worth spending tens of millions of dollars to slightly reduce traffic. There are other projects that will reduce traffic for much less money, and no one, and I mean no one- not even the most ardent environmentalist- is against them. By these projects I mean widening Maybank Hwy. and Main Road; and creating a better intersection at Maybank and Folly.

It took a long time for people in Charleston (including me) to get their heads around the idea that building more highways doesn't necessarily alleviate traffic. I still think I-526 will probably be extended, but only because the idea has been banging around inside the heads of politicians for a long time now, and we've seen how much they hate bowing to public opinion once the issue's settled in their own minds. I predict a huge fight though. Add a slew of lawsuits that will make the highway even more expensive, and less worth it.

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.... Developers sure aren't being dissuaded by the nonexistence of the extension. New neighborhoods, shopping centers, and public facilities are being built there now. Traffic is near gridlock on all major roads going to and from the island. It is time to complete the circle around Charleston and allow for better access to all areas of the city.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Case in point. Developers don't control what gets developed, the lcoal governments do. But their complete lack of proper land use policies and caving into developers is turning the Charleston area into a mini-Atlanta sprawlville. Honestly I know a number of people who don't even care to visit Charleston anymore (including myself) because it has sold itself out to chain stores, its over gentrified, and the traffic is unbearable. In 20 years the area is going to be looking at ways to reverse the damage that is being done but it will be well beyond too late.

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The real question is whether it's worth spending tens of millions of dollars to slightly reduce traffic. There are other projects that will reduce traffic for much less money, and no one, and I mean no one- not even the most ardent environmentalist- is against them. By these projects I mean widening Maybank Hwy. and Main Road; and creating a better intersection at Maybank and Folly.

It took a long time for people in Charleston (including me) to get their heads around the idea that building more highways doesn't necessarily alleviate traffic. I still think I-526 will probably be extended, but only because the idea has been banging around inside the heads of politicians for a long time now, and we've seen how much they hate bowing to public opinion once the issue's settled in their own minds. I predict a huge fight though. Add a slew of lawsuits that will make the highway even more expensive, and less worth it.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I see what you're saying. It's not that I think always building more highways will alleviate traffic. Call it the principle of the situation, if you will. This project was planned to be a complete beltway decades ago, and it still is incomplete. It feels incomplete. When you're driving to the end of I-526 around Citadel Mall, you just know that the road could continue. Completion of the highway would actually bring contiguity of the entire metro area. I know some Johns Islanders don't like to think they're in the Charleston metro area, but that is the reality.

Widening Maybank and Main and creating a better intersection at Maybank and Folly are great ideas, and they should be done, IMO. However, these are more temporary fixes to traffic gridlock than the expressway completion. By the time those projects are completed, more people will be living on James and Johns islands, and the traffic will be as congested as it is now. I really believe they should build all of the projects you listed, including the last leg of I-526. It completes the beltway and allows for better flow of current routes through and to the city.

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Case in point.  Developers don't control what gets developed, the lcoal governments do. But their complete lack of proper land use policies and caving into developers is turning the Charleston area into a mini-Atlanta sprawlville.  Honestly I know a number of people who don't even care to visit Charleston anymore (including myself) because it has sold itself out to chain stores, its over gentrified, and the traffic is unbearable.  In 20 years the area is going to be looking at ways to reverse the damage that is being done but it will be well beyond too late.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think Charleston will do a much better job of preventing itself from becoming another Atlanta. The city and other areas are providing leadership for smart growth beyond what other cities have done like Columbia, Savannah, or Augusta. The city's Century V plan is quite detailed, and there is a huge emphasis on redevelopment projects or in-fill projects. Atlanta was definitely not proactive with its growth, but Charleston is showing that it can be proactive and still attract people to live and work there.

Traffic is an evil in the city that will never go away unless we ban the automobile. Mass transit and "Park and Rides" would significantly alleviate some of the congestion, though, and Charleston is being a leader in this state for doing those things.

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Call it the principle of the situation, if you will. This project was planned to be a complete beltway decades ago, and it still is incomplete. It feels incomplete. When you're driving to the end of I-526 around Citadel Mall, you just know that the road could continue. Completion of the highway would actually bring contiguity of the entire metro area.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I can't say I feel that way when I'm driving on I-526. It ends at Hwy 17N in Mt. Pleasant and it ends at Hwy 17S in West Ashley. It's symmetrical and "complete" enough IMO.

One problem with the extension that no one has mentioned is that it's planned to go through James Island County Park on its way to hooking up with the connector. I mean- we live in a city where people constantly complain that there aren't enough parks, and we're going to build an expressway through the only real park on James Island? A six-lane highway running through a park is something you'd expect to find in New Jersey, or on the outskirts of Chicago or Los Angeles. Does anyone really want this in Charleston?

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A six-lane highway running through a park is something you'd expect to find in New Jersey, or on the outskirts of Chicago or Los Angeles. Does anyone really want this in Charleston?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

New Jersey would be a weak example unless we're talking about just the Palisades Parkway and portions of the Garden State Parkway. Many of NYC's and Long Island "parkways" runs through parkland maintained by the city or the county if its out on Long Island. Even some of the expressways run through parkland too!

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