It All Depends On Who’s Got The Juice

By Barney Blakeney

The South Carolina Department of Transportation vows it will be more considerate of the impact highway construction has on the minority communities it impacts. In the past highway construction usually went right through minority – Black – communities. Mrs. Lucas, my old sociology professor at Knoxville College said there was a reason – it was because that made it easier for ‘The Man’ to roll in tanks to quell Black unrest during the turbulent 1960s. Beyond that, running roads through Black communities meant there would be little challenge from disempowered Blacks and no major impact on white communities.

Joy Riley, program manager for the I-526 West widening project says it’s a new day. The department’s learned a lot since it built the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that disrupted Eastside Charleston Black communities some 15 years ago. Only now is promised mitigating construction taking place to restore some of the lost housing that displaced Black residents.

SCDOT plans to do a lot of stuff to mitigate the impact on the Black communities the widening project will affect this time around. The first phase likely will most impact communities around the I-26/I-526 interchange in North Charleston – Ferndale, Highland Terrace, Liberty Park, and Russelldale.

Riley said 100-150 properties may be impacted. Property owners can expect some help from SCDOT – fair market value of property and home based on appraisal, moving expenses, real estate services and a lot more. SCDOT is purchasing properties and will partner with housing developers to provide affordable housing to some of the displaced, she said. A lesson learned since the Ravenel Bridge construction.

I was impressed at what SCDOT is doing now compared to what happened 20 years ago. And then I talked to a friend who is among the property owner to be impacted. Retired and without a mortgage note for the past 15 years, my friend is concerned he won’t get a lot for the modest home he owns. With only taxes and utilities to pay, my boy is a traveler in his retirement. Last time we talked he was on his way to Africa.

The kids are grown and gone so he was thinking he and the ‘old ball and chain’ as he calls his wife, would spend the rest of their days on the road seeing places they only dreamed of before. But this highway construction thing is throwing a kink in his plans. His home isn’t worth a lot of money, but he doubts he’ll be able to buy anything comparable without taking on another mortgage.

My friend says he’s a little perturbed with the elected officials who represent his community. They tell him SCDOT will take care of them. He wonders whether his elected representatives represent him or SCDOT. I guess that’s what happens when you vote for who you know rather than what they know. The Ravenel Bridge displaced a Charleston official who had lived in the house built by her father some 80 year. She died a few years after being displaced.

I heard the same story about an old lady displaced by the proposed construction of the state port authority terminal on Daniel Island. Before then state Sen. Arthur Ravenel intervened the SPA bought land from the Black residents on one side of the island to build the terminal. Affluent whites at the other end of the island weren’t having it. Black elected officials couldn’t get it stopped so they called in Ravenel. Next thing you know, the project was stopped and moved to the former North Charleston naval base adjacent to the Black communities of Union Heights and Chicora Cherokee. I heard the old lady who was displaced moved elsewhere in Mount Pleasant and died shortly after. You can’t move them old people around like that in their old age!

Black folks don’t have the juice to stop the I-526 widening project. Some think it’s a good thing. Me, I think we should be building more public transportation instead of highways. But who listens to me? I think Riley and her team will do all they can to mitigate the impact the project will have on powerless communities with less than adequate political representation. But within the scope of the big picture there still are all those little people like my friend. Their lives and quality of life will be changed. I get good vibes from Riley and her crew, but I’m saddened when I think of what all this means to my friend.

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