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Judge dismisses I-526 lawsuit

Staff //March 2, 2020//

Judge dismisses I-526 lawsuit

Staff //March 2, 2020//

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Traffic merges at the junction of Interstate 26 and Interstate 526 in North Charleston. (Photo/Andy Owens)A Richland County circuit judge has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Charleston County’s use of two, half-cent sales tax referendums to fund the extension of Interstate 526.

Coastal Conservation League, with two Charleston County citizens, sued Charleston County, the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank and the S.C. Department of Transportation in June to challenge the new I-526 Intergovernmental Agreement that revived the nearly 15-year-old road project.

The agreement, signed in January 2019, recommitted the state bank to pay the $420 million that was originally set aside for the highway and put the county on the hook to pay the remaining balance, which will be at least $305 million.

Charleston County also assumed much of the legal responsibility for the project, paying for and handling any legal challenges.

In February 2019, Charleston County Council voted 7-2 to set aside $3.1 million for preliminary work. The funding will come from half-cent sales tax referendums passed in 2004 and 2016.

The Coastal Conservation League argued in its lawsuit that using money from the half-cent sales taxes violates the will of the voters and takes money away from other transportation projects that the taxes were meant to fund.

Judge L. Casey Manning dismissed the case, though, ruling that the nonprofit and the two Charleston County citizens lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.

“The taxpayers and individual association members have not suffered a concrete, particularized injury because they fail to show a personal interest other than that shared in common by all members of the public,” Manning wrote in his order, released last week.

Manning added that the 2004 and 2016 sales tax referendum questions also do not itemize lists of individual roads, greenbelts or mass transit system projects.

“Therefore,” he wrote, “the ballot questions do not limit the county’s discretion to finance unspecified roads over the twenty-five-year collection period of the Transportation Sales tax.”

A spokeswoman for Coastal Conservation League directed the Business Journal to contact lawyer Andy Gowder for comment. Gowder did not return a voicemail left for him by press time.