It was a full house at the Town’s Transportation Committee meeting on Sept. 6. Residents of Grassy Creek, Belle Hall and Tidal Walk neighborhoods filled the Council Chambers at Town Hall to comment on and hear updates regarding the I-526 Long Point Road Interchange project from the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
After approving minutes from the last Transportation Committee meeting, which undoubtedly drew a much smaller crowd, it was time for public comment. Residents wasted no time in getting to the microphone to air their grievances about the project.
To maximize their time, residents of the neighborhoods took turns reading a letter which outlined specific concerns with the project. In increments of two and a half minutes, neighbors read paragraph after paragraph of issues, citing noise, safety and pollution as top stressors, and presented additional solutions for the interchange.
“We’ve presented several ideas to SCDOT, and they deserve consideration and further study. Additionally, all of the current SCDOT proposals include eliminating the current left hand turn for Long Point Road onto Belle Hall Parkway,” said Grassy Creek resident Angie Anderson. “We believe that a lighted intersection is the best long term solution for traffic and safety.”
Michael Allen, who has lived in Belle Hall since 1996, said that he understands the challenges of growth in the Lowcountry and how vital the Port Authority is to the area, but that this growth has become a “burden we have been shackled with unwillingly.”
“Although my home is not in the direct path of the proposed alternatives, the collateral damage that will be inflicted on me and my family along with the communities in its pathway is monumental,” Allen wrote.
The adoption of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act in 1956 authorized the construction of an interstate highway system throughout the United States. The complaints that the neighborhoods raised are consequences of this act and it’s the same thing that’s been happening to communities of color for decades, Allen said.
“Show me an interstate highway in an urban area for the most part of America, and I’ll show you a brown or underrepresented or underserved community,” Allen said. “Now, these individuals, these families, communities on Long Point are now facing a consequential situation that many Americans have been facing since the inception of the NSA program.”
It’s up to SCDOT to rectify this through compromise and collaboration with the Town and residents, he said.
Following nearly 20 minutes of public comment, SCDOT Project Manager Joy Riley had the floor to update the town on the project. Riley said she has received nearly 500 comments about the project in the 30-day comment period that ended on Sept. 1.
“There are multiple levels of public input. The type of input we have gotten over the last 30 days is exactly the kind of input we’re looking for,” Riley said. “We are really at that top level trying to figure out how to fix the traffic problems.”
Out of the six improvements proposed by the SCDOT for the interchange, only four will be moving forward with in-depth traffic analyses and further design. Alternatives four and five, which propose a single-point urban interchange and a flyover, respectively, will not be studied further, Riley said.
“Our goal would be to take these further through that design process and make those modifications,” Riley said. “Once we pick that preferred alternative, we still have to seek our approvals through our federal highway partners.”
SCDOT hopes to hold a public hearing for the project by 2023, where the modified alternatives will be presented along with a preferred solution.