I-526 completion will be decided by Charleston County

By Eric

CHARLESTON, SC (WCIV) -- The South Carolina Department of Transportation has said no to Interstate 526.

The DOT commission decided Wednesday it will not be taking over the project, which would complete I-526 across Johns and James islands.

While the decision by the board was unanimous, it doesn't mean the I-526 project is dead. What it does is put major stress on Charleston County Council to make a decision.

Wednesday in Columbia, commissioners questioned the validity of even discussing their involvement.

"For some reason they (Charleston County) didn't have the insight or the courage to make the vote down there," said one commissioner.

"This is not our responsibility," another said. "I don't think we should have ever had to be here today, and should (not) have to vote."

The DOT commission didn't take long deciding. The vote was made in well under an hour. Members struggled with idea of devoting so much to I-526, given the needs of the state's other 40,000{} miles of highway.

"It's going to be up to the courage of Charleston County Council to make a decision and act to the constituents to who they represent, do they want this project or not," said SCDOT Commission Chairman, R. Eddie Adams.

The DOT does pledge to help manage construction, though Charleston County must take the reigns.

"If it's not built now it will never be built," said Charleston Mayor, Joe Riley. "We need it, the community wants it, the funds are there, and these are not funds we can use for other projects."

Riley, who supports the I-526 completion, noted the State Infrastructure Bank has said it will come up with more than $550 million in backing, if the plan moves forward.

The county loses the cash if it votes no.

"The DOT commission acted appropriately," said State Sen. Larry Grooms. "They will do their part, they just need the local sponsor Charleston County to speak affirmatively that we want to move forward, or pass a resolution saying we're out, don't build it at all."

While SCDOT will not be taking over, the decision lies in the hands of Charleston County Council. When members will take a vote remains to be seen.

According to county council chairman Teddie Pryor, if I-526 is nixed, the county will owe the DOT nearly $12 million and be in default.