Monday, December 19, 2016 Blog

526 rises from the dead — sort of, while the Ashley River bike lane languishes. Bears and quality of life. Hope from Exxon on climate change.

by Andy Hollis


This must sound like a familiar refrain. The Post and Courier reports that the S.C. State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) has once more postponed the final internment of the I-526 extension to rural John’s Island. The project, estimated to cost $750 million, (the most expensive transportation project in the state’s history), faces a funding shortfall of more than $300 million.

Earlier this year the STIB gave the county an ultimatum – either come up with the rest of the money or we’ll redirect the remaining $380 million of the STIB commitment to one of the state’s many transportation priorities. (I-526 has never been ranked as a state, or even a local, priority.)

On Wednesday, County Council chairman Elliott Summey assured the bank board he could produce the funds to cover the shortfall, and that he “had the votes” on the council – but he refused to reveal the source of the funds.–extension-decision-delayed-until-march/article_ced2c9b8-c178-11e6-bbd1-93bdff232a66.html

In this article, Diane Knich, with the Post and Courier, reports that none of the none of the county council members knew anything about Summey’s plan. They were as mystified as the STIB board members and the public about the source of the funds. As Conservation League land use director Natalie Olson said, “It’s another back room deal.” Only there was apparently nobody in the back room but Elliott.

Nonetheless, the board gave the county until March to deliver the plan, and this time with details rather than hand waving.

Here’s a short (6.5 minutes) video interview of me by the irrepressible Quintin Washington explaining the latest on I-526.

One project that has been funded, (at $1.2 million, approximately 0.16 % of the cost of 526), and approved by both the Charleston County Council and the Charleston City Council is the bike lane across the Ashely River. This lane dedication would remove the single biggest obstacle to bicycle and pedestrian commuters in the region, and thus open the flood gate for non-polluting, non-congesting, health-inducing travel between West Ashley and downtown.

In spite of that, the county council has back peddled (so to speak) on the bike lane, disingenuously tossing the hot potato to the S.C. Department of Transportation for further analysis. As this article from the Post and Courier reports, it is unclear when the DOT will respond, or even what they’ve been asked to evaluate. The DOT says they haven’t heard anything from the county.

The Post and Courier urges the council to stop stalling on the lane.

All of this may seem like an episode from the Keystone Cops, (who were slightly before my time, but I have seen the reruns). Sadly, this is the way transportation policy is developed and executed in South Carolina. My sense is so many people are fed up with the gridlock, obfuscation and incompetence that there will finally be political consequence for the perpetrators.

Speaking of transportation, on the northeastern end of the coast, black bears are still imperiled by the construction of a four lane highway through the state’s beautiful heritage preserve, Lewis Ocean Bay. Myrtle Beach SC reports that the issue goes beyond bear and motorist safety. Lisa Turansky, our chief conservation officer, explains (the obvious) that a healthy environment is an essential part of maintaining a high quality of life, one that will continue to appeal to current and future residents of the Grand Strand.

I’ve waited until last for the weekly commentary on president elect Donald Trump’s unfolding environmental agenda. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State is Exxon chief, Rex Tillerson. Unlike virtually every other cabinet appointee, Tillerson not only accepts the scientific reality of climate change, he has endorsed a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The first piece, from, describes Tillerson as “the most pro-climate Trump nominee” yet.

The next piece from the National Review includes quotes from a speech Tillerson gave in October on climate policy.

Said Tillerson:

At ExxonMobil, we share the view that the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action. Addressing these risks requires broad-based, practical solutions around the world. Importantly, as a result of the Paris agreement, both developed and developing countries are now working together to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions… We have long supported a carbon tax as the best policy of those being considered… It would allow market forces to drive solutions. It would maximize transparency, reduce administrative complexity, promote global participation and easily adjust to future developments in our understanding of climate science as well as the policy consequences of these actions.

There are, of course, dozens of other considerations for a secretary of state, but this is the first piece of encouraging news we’ve gotten on the environmental inclinations of the incoming president. It remains to be seen whether Tillerson can counter-balance other cabinet members’ vociferous anti-science denial of a warming planet. We’ll keep our fingers crossed, and weigh in on the appointments.

Have a great week!


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