SCDOT Commission expected to endorse revised 526 agreement

By Nikki Gaskins

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) A revised contract for the completion of I-526 is expected to get the green light Thursday in Columbia during a state Department of Transportation Commission meeting.

State House Speaker Bobby Harrell says he will go before the DOT Commission, urging them to approve the Intergovernmental Agreement.

Both Harrell and Charleston County Vice Chairman Elliott Summey say they are eager to get the ball rolling on the roadway's completion.

Of course, there are those who oppose the project all together.

"The rural character of Johns Island is going to be destroyed, not to mention a lot of environmental effects it will have," said homeowner Rich Thomas.

For the last five and a half years, Thomas has called Johns Island home.

"This is one of the most beautiful places on the planet," he said.

However, he and fellow homeowners believe I-526 will ruin that beauty that's why he plans to travel to Columbia Thursday to encourage the DOT commission to reject the agreement.

"There are over 3,000 properties within a thousand feet of the road that will be impacted by this project," said Thomas.

Summey says the county already has a contract with the DOT, but what commissioners will vote on Thursday is merely an amendment to it that he anticipates will pass.

"The document lays the groundwork for who is doing what during the process of the project," said Summey. "Each side is in agreement on the document."

Summey says the document is about 25 pages long and simply explains each party's involvement in the project.

"Charleston County will be overseeing the project," said Harrell. "This has been a very long time coming."

According to Harrell, construction can begin once the agreement is approved.

"It's time to build the road," he said. "This is probably the last hurdle that we need to get through."

For those favoring the approximately $560 million dollar project, it will extend I-526 by about nine miles, connecting West Ashley with James and Johns islands.

"It's important that we get this road finished so that we deal with the traffic problems in and around the area," said Harrell.

Summey says once the highway is completed, it will have a feel similar to that of Chuck Dawley Boulevard.

But for homeowners like Rich Thomas, there are hopes the commissioners don't cave in to what he calls political pressure and turn down the agreement.

"The political pressures have been so strong, I think they feel they have no recourse but to vote for this. We'll see how it plays out," said Thomas.

Summey says if for some reason the commission rejects the agreement, they'll keep revising it until the commission approves it. Neither Harrell nor Summey say they expect that to happen.