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State infrastructure bank votes again to kill I-526 project

Transportation
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The S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank board voted 4-3 on Tuesday against funding the controversial Interstate 526 extension, once again ending its part in the project that is more than a decade into planning.

The latest vote means the project will no longer have the $420 million in state funding that was originally promised to Charleston County for the infrastructure project.

The project will not move forward now unless it goes to court, unless the county comes up with the needed funding or unless the stakeholders come back to the table. Gov. Henry McMaster is in favor of the project moving forward.

Calls to county and infrastructure bank officials were not returned by press time.

The history of the I-526 extension project is complex and involves numerous changes and funding shortfalls over the years.

In 2006, an agreement was reached among the S.C. Department of Transportation, Charleston County and the bank to extend the highway 8 miles from West Ashley, where it currently ends at U.S. Highway 17, through Johns Island and over to James Island.

Lowcountry leaders and business officials have pushed for the highway extension, saying it is needed even more than when it was first conceptualized as the region’s congestion intensifies. Many environmentalists and island residents are against the extension, saying it will irrevocably change the character of the area by cutting into marshes, wooded areas and neighborhoods.

Delays and disagreements stalled the start of construction years ago. The estimated costs continually increased, growing from $420 million to around $770 million.

In December 2015, the bank board agreed to keep $420 million reserved for the Interstate 526 extension project in the bank, under the condition that Charleston County present a funding plan to address the roughly $350 million funding shortfall within a few months.

Charleston County Council passed a resolution in early 2016 to explore other funding options, including a possible toll road, for the project. A locally led plan to use a portion of funds from the county’s sales tax referendum was also presented but failed to garner support.

The state bank board voted in May 2016 to kill the I-526 project, saying the new funding options would take years to study and costs would continue to rise. The vote was intended to put the $420 million that had been set aside for the project back into the overall bank fund for other projects to pull from.

That did not happen, however. In December 2016, the bank board reversed that decision unanimously, giving the county yet another deadline to come up with the funding.

Charleston County has threatened to sue the state infrastructure bank if funding is not allocated to the project, saying the $420 million has been promised to the county. The county has already invested more than $100 million on roadwork in preparation for the interstate extension.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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June 27, 2018

Can we please move on the Interstate concept and build out an interconnected grid, adaptive signal controls, signalized turning lanes, transit shelters and a bus transit service.