Lowcountry Headlines

Lowcountry Headlines


SC Committee approves $75 million I-526 extension, includes stipulation

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Additional funding has been approved for an extension project that has been in the works for nearly two decades.

The South Carolina Joint Bond Review Committee approved the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s action Tuesday afternoon of providing $75 million for preliminary costs in the Mark Clark Extension Project.

Beginning back in 2006, the extension project is part of an over $2 billion project to extend Interstate 526 from West Ashley to Johns Island and James Island.

The approval came with a stipulation to the original $75 million vote with committee members asking for full communication between the bank, county and state on the status of the project, particularly noting the necessary 2024 Charleston County Referendum.

“If the voters don’t approve it in 2024, I am really not clear why this committee is being put into the position the very voters of Charleston County have not voted off on yay or nay,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter says.

The County’s approach for total project funding appears to be dependent on approval of a half-cent Transportation Sales Tax by the County’s constituency to be considered by referendum next fall, but public support for the referendum is not clear.

“Does it bother you to send $20 million on dirt before we know that the county is going to approve the referendum?” Senator Nikki Setzler asked.

Charleston County approved the funding last January despite conflicting opinions and arguments on the millions of dollars that have been put into the project over the last decade.

But the county approved the funding after removing the project from a list on the 2016 ballot, committing funding to the project without the voter’s approval.

“I think the main issue is that they’re relying on the voters to pass a referendum 11 months from now. The last referendum in 2016 barely passed, it passed by just a handful of votes,” Rich Thomas, who has lived on Johns Island for 15 years says.

“I think this time around, citizens and taxpayers are going to understand that county council maybe can’t be trusted to spend their money wisely,” Thomas adds.

The project was originally set to cost $420 million back in 2008 with costs continuing to rise over the years.

Freeway construction

Photo: Thomas Winz / The Image Bank / Getty Images

But South Carolina’s Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said that the longer the project is delayed, the more expensive the project will cost.

“This is the best-case scenario I see for our bank. This is the best-case scenario I see for the Charleston situation, and that’s why our board decided to unanimously approve it,” S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank Chairman John White Jr. says.

Not only were rising costs mentioned, but the continual growth of the Charleston area.

“The region has grown so much that when you have one corridor clogged up, it really cascades across the entire community,” S.C. State Representative Leon Stavrinakis says. “It really affects downtown a lot.”

Hall says if the referendum passes and everything goes according to plan, phase one of the project should be completed by the end of this decade.

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