By Nikki Gaskins email@example.com
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) State Department of Transportation commissioners on Thursday gave the green light to an agreement that would move the I-526 project forward.
Whether to finish the interstate has been at the center of a hot-button debate for more than two decades. It's been a pricey project that has generated strong feelings on both sides of the debate for years.
In Thursday's hearing, environmental groups expressed opposition to the road's completion before SCDOT commissioners.
"There is no disagreement that I-526 is not a state priority," stressed Dana Beach with the Coastal Conservation League.
Beach encouraged commissioners to reject the revised agreement with Charleston County and focus on making improvements to other state roads. State House Speaker Bobby Harrell traveled to Columbia to say otherwise.
"Completing 526 won't suddenly create urban sprawl throughout the area, that's already happening," said Harrell, responding to those who say completing 526 will create a population boom.
Thursday's approved agreement reaffirms the DOT's and County's individual roles in overseeing the completion of the project.
"This will get the stuff, engineering moving. This will get permits moving, in turn, it gets the project moving," said Elliott Summey, Charleston County Vice Chairman.
Harrell says the commission's move makes the completion of the highway more of a reality.
"That vote today paves the way for us to go ahead and get the road built," said Harrell.
The completion of 526 will connect West Ashley to James and Johns islands with the intent of alleviating traffic. But for homeowners like Rich Thomas, who traveled to Thursday's meeting, nixing 526 is far from over.
"We're going to continue to fight because we don't believe it's in the best interest of the taxpayers," said Thomas.
Summey says this latest move on the project is likely to pave the way for lawsuits by those against it.
"I'm sure there will be litigation. We heard that from the conservation league sadly," said Summey.
Summey says to complete 526 would take about five years. However, says pending lawsuits would obviously delay that.
As for what's next, Summey says the secretary of transportation must sign the agreement. After that, he says the document must be approved by the State Infrastructure Bank, which should happen in the near future.