State Sen. Robert Ford fears plans for the Neck Area are being rammed down Charleston's throat.
Ford — along with local environmental and business leaders — has tried to stop a state Department of Transportation public hearing scheduled for Thursday to outline plans for widening Interstate 26 through the Neck Area.
The highway expansion is part of a plan to improve access to the new port terminals planned for the former Charleston Naval Base in North Charleston.
Ford says there needs to be a comprehensive study of transportation needs around the city, and it needs more input before local residents see a bunch of maps that, as he says, a Harvard cartographer couldn't figure out.
"You're confusing people," said Ford, D-Charleston. "Everybody within five miles of I-26 thinks they've got to move."
H.B. "Buck" Limehouse, executive director of the DOT, said the hearing needs to go on, that it's part of process for moving forward.
"I think some projects are getting mixed up," Limehouse said. "The only thing this is about is widening I-26. That would be done in the existing right of way."
No one, Limehouse said, would be run out of their homes. Several residents were displaced when the original interstate was built.
Limehouse told Ford on Tuesday that he'd be happy to have more public meetings, including a full presentation of plans for the area.
The idea of widening the interstate and a new access road from I-26 to the Navy base has met with decidedly lukewarm response. A group of businesses and concerned citizens has formed the Ashley Cooper Alliance to discuss transportation and economic development issues for the Neck Area, the narrow land between downtown Charleston and North Charleston.
"The way we see the Neck now, it's not going to be that way in 15 years," said Dana Beach, director of the Coastal Conservation League. "It'll probably have 20,000 to 30,000 more residents and a million more square feet of residential, commercial, retail and office space in it."
Ford, Beach and the representatives of some area businesses say that the DOT needs to consider a plan, like one from the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments a few years ago, which suggested improvements to other major thoroughfares, such as Spruill Avenue, that would make an I-26 widening unnecessary. They are also in favor of looking at alternatives like light rail transportation.
Holding a hearing to talk about widening the interstate is just not the route to take, Beach says.
"If you're asking the wrong question, you're not going to get the right answer," Beach said.
If you go
What: The state Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing to outline plans for widening Interstate 26 between I-526 and North Meeting Street.When: 5 to 7 p.m. ThursdayWhere: Edmund A. Burns Elementary School, 3750 Dorchester Road, North Charleston.