Charleston City Council votes to take on I-526

People protest against 526 Tuesday. (WCIV/Eric Egan)

By Eric

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The City of Charleston agreed tonight to take over the completion of Interstate 526.

Mayor Joe Riley presented his plan to the city council for why Charleston should assume responsibility for the project.

So, the debate over 526 is continued inside city hall. Some people clearly want the talk to continue, while others would like to see it end.

Now's the time to see 526, once and for all, completed. That's the message Riley to the city council. In his eyes, the time is now or never.

"The City of Charleston, this region will suffer forever because the traffic congestion will just get worse and worse," Riley said. "There will be gridlock in certain parts of our city."

Council members voted 11-2 in favor of taking over the project.

In September, the state Department of Transportation put the ball back in the court of county council, to decide whether to finish the project. That decision didn't kill the project, it only fueled the debate further.

Even some of those opposed to I-526 would like it left in the county's hands.

"They (Charleston County) have all the knowledge, all the studies, all the understanding, to bring it to a new entity, as the city in this late stage, I don't think it's a good move," said Jake Libaire of the Coastal Conservation League.

Libaire and others with the Coastal Conservation League say the costs are too great, while the benefits are too few. Libaire says he'd like to see a second option seriously explored.

"Everyone knows what the problems are: Main and Highway 17, Folly Road, getting on and off Johns Island; there are choke points there that can be easily solved," he said.

For the time being, the county council is taking the wait-and-see approach.

Tuesday, Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said, "I've seen the mayor's plan, it looks good. But the city council still has to vote tonight. If they vote yes, county council still has to vote to approve their decision in order to hand over the project."

That vote would likely come in one month's time.

The county stands to owe the state around $12 million if the project is nixed.

Opponents still fear the city could get stuck with a burden worth hundreds of millions if the State Infrastructure Bank doesn't come through with more funding.

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