I-526 LOWCOUNTRY CORRIDOR PROJECT
OUR CURRENT WORK + HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION
To support local mitigation efforts in relation to the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project, Charleston Moves is working with various partners to compile recommendations that support a clean and accessible Filbin Creek. This includes safe, connected multi-modal access between the I-526 corridor and creek, as well as improved water quality and access between Filbin and Noisette Creeks. These recommendations will be presented to SCDOT to consider as mitigation strategies as part of their highway widening.
We also are working to support bicycle and pedestrian master planning for the City of North Charleston, connecting, but not limited, to a bike/ped route adjacent to I-526. This will include gathering preferred routes from the public to share with the municipality and BCDCOG. Please fill out our form to weigh in on where you’d like to be able to comfortably walk and ride a bike in the North Charleston area.
PROJECT OVERVIEW + IMPACTS
The I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project is the proposed widening of the existing 526 interstate from four to eight lanes, spanning Mount Pleasant, Daniel Island, North Charleston and West Ashley. The project is split into two segments:
- EAST covers Virginia Avenue in North Charleston to Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.
- WEST covers Virginia Avenue in North Charleston to Paul Cantrell Boulevard in West Ashley, including a redesign of the I-526/I-26 interchange.
The WEST segment will displace hundreds of homes, businesses and community centers, including significant impacts to four historic, Environmental Justice (EJ) communities: Ferndale, Highland Terrace, Liberty Park and Russeldale. These same communities already bore disproportionate impacts from the original construction of I-526, and before that, I-26. The proposal will cause 113 displacements between International Boulevard and Rivers Avenue alone, 92 of which are within the EJ communities. There are two additional EJ communities impacted by the WEST segment: Camps and West/East Ada.
According to SCDOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS): “The original construction of I-526 in the 1980’s resulted in the bisection of neighborhoods and therefore disruption of community cohesion … Further residential displacements associated with the proposed project serve to further divide the communities. Most of these residential displacements are located in North Charleston … Feedback from the I-526 West Community Advisory Council has indicated that residents displaced or encroached upon by the previous I-526 and I-26 projects were not compensated fairly or justly.”
In addition to forced relocations, there are cumulative effects on health brought on and exacerbated by the interstate. These effects disproportionately and adversely impact low-income and minority populations within the project scope. According to the DEIS: “Air quality effects are compounded by the proximity of minority and low-income communities to the I-526 and I-26 corridors and rail corridors. A study that tracked the number of children treated for asthma at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) over a 40-year period found a 20-fold increase of asthma instances among African-American children; four times the instances of asthma in white children over the same period … The EJ neighborhoods of Russelldale, Liberty Park, Highland Terrace, and Ferndale are most likely to be most affected by the project due to their proximity to the existing interstate corridor. Without mitigation, the anticipated residential and recreational facility displacements are considered to be disproportionately high. The same is true for anticipated adverse impacts such as residential displacements, exposure to environmental pollutants, and others…as there are no comparable burdens placed upon other neighborhoods in the broader vicinity of the proposed project.”
In addition to air quality, water quality will also be damaged. Tire wear particles are one of the most prevalent forms of microplastics found throughout Charleston’s estuaries and waterways, namely the Wando, Cooper and Ashley Rivers, all of which are bisected by I-526. Microplastics and PAHs, which form, in part, from the burning of gasoline, end up in our waterways, poisoning human and marine life. According to Charleston Waterkeeper: 100% of their cleanups near roadways result in the collection of a plethora of single-use plastic pollution. This is especially true for Filbin Creek at Attaway Street in North Charleston underneath I-526.
As for the EAST segment, the proposal will force 64-80 relocations, depending on the selected alternative. According to feedback collected by SCDOT at the first public information meeting (July 15 – August 15, 2020), only 5% of respondents support the widening.
The estimated price for the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project is roughly $7 billion, as of 2021. According to the SHIFT calculator, adding 23 miles of interstate in Charleston-North Charleston will generate 101-151 million additional vehicle miles traveled per year. With this induced demand, the corridor will be congested again (just like before it was widened), within 20 years of being built.
Based on requests by Charleston Moves, local municipalities, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) and the public, SCDOT has agreed to include a 14’ multi-use path over all the 526 river crossings. This is a critical step toward building a connected, equitable transportation network across the county, but alone, is not good enough. Provision of multi-modal infrastructure along the entirety of I-526 would be consistent with the regional Long Range Transportation Plan and Walk Bike BCD Plan, which call for a shared-use path along the whole corridor. To that end, we are pushing the agency to take responsibility for extending this path beyond just the bridges, and to refrain from punting multi-modal to the municipalities to pay for separately.
Our main areas of concern include:
- Bicycle + Pedestrian Access: Connected multi-modal facilities along the entire I-526 corridor — throughout and between impacted communities, and to neighborhood amenities and daily needs — is critical. Not only, but particularly for those without access to a motor vehicle, which is at least 10% of the population in North Charleston. Further restricting access and decimating community cohesion by way of isolating neighborhoods will cut the life-blood for the residents who have lived there for generations, and who have already bore the brunt of impacts from the construction of I-526 and I-26.
- Public Transit: Bus stops need to be upgraded with proper shelters and accommodations, linkages must be made to the Lowcountry Rapid Transit project, and enhanced transit service (specifically Corridor G of the BCDCOG’s Regional Transit Framework Plan) should be implemented along the I-526 corridor on opening day, not once the interstate’s level-of-service fails again. Reserving space on shoulders for buses (or cars) at a later date is woefully non-committal and an outdated approach for a regional transportation project of this magnitude. It is vital that we actively work toward splitting the mode share; otherwise, additional vehicular trips will be encouraged, and the corridor is sure to reach capacity again quickly.
- Neighborhood Leadership: The Community Advisory Council (CAC) needs to be empowered to guide the project’s community mitigation. Impacted residents are the experts on what is most needed to improve existing conditions and to prevent further damage by this project. SCDOT’s budget for this should be determined upon identification of community needs and robust, diverse mitigation strategies that make the communities whole again, not the other way around.
- Affordable Housing: Single-family, owner-occupied homes are the most impacted type of housing stock. SCDOT claims they will provide 100 multi-family units for those displaced, however that will not be enough, and residents do not want to be removed from their communities where they have worked to build generational wealth and strong social ties. Further, forcing families to move across a municipality can jeopardize financial stability and educational opportunities. SCDOT must find solutions to provide adequate (type and quantity) housing within the neighborhoods, without burdening owners with new or increased mortgages and renters with higher monthly payments.
- Preservation: A number of the most impacted neighborhoods are historic, with properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. SCDOT needs to prioritize “avoiding versus mitigating” damage to impacted communities and the significant historical and cultural sites therein, just as they’ve committed to in the July 2020 Update of their Multimodal Transportation Plan. Furthermore, an expansion of this interstate will bring significantly more air and water pollution to the areas, contributing to cumulative effects on vulnerable populations; the amount of mitigation dollars to sufficiently address these impacts are undefined and will most certainly be inadequate.
OUR COMMENTS ON THE RECORD
In coordination with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Coastal Conservation League, Charleston Moves has submitted the following official comments on the proposed I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project. Throughout its development, we have repeatedly called out methodologies and strategies that we identified as shortsighted or incomplete, and urged the agency to consider our requests that if this project is to advance, robust multi-modal access alongside community and environmental mitigation must be centered.
- January 15, 2021: I-526 Lowcountry Corridor WEST comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement
- December 1, 2021: I-526 Lowcountry Corridor EAST comments on SCDOT’s Planning and Environmental Linkages Study (PEL)
Additional letters from local leadership supporting multi-modal accommodations:
- August 9, 2017: Letter from the City of North Charleston requesting bicycle facilities be included within the scope of the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project
- September 28, 2020: Resolution by the BCDCOG Board of Directors to support bicycle, pedestrian and transit accommodations throughout the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project
- October 5, 2020: Resolution by the CHATS Policy Committee to support bicycle, pedestrian and transit accommodations throughout the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor project