Charleston County leaders rejoice after I-526 completion efforts move forward

526 Traffic (WCIV Graphic)

The price tag is $300 million dollars.

That's what Charleston County will need to come up with for its share of the estimated $725 million dollar Interstate 526 completion project. At Thursday afternoon’s meeting, Charleston County Council members voted 7 - 2 in favor of approving a contract with the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB).

The document promises to pursue the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway.

County leaders say they have $65 million dollars leftover from the previous half-cent transportation sales tax.

The rest will come from extra monies in the current sales tax program.

Most say they're thrilled to see this project happen.

"Two words: Henry McMaster," said Elliott Summey, chairman of Charleston County council.

Summey credits Governor McMaster for creating what he calls a level playing field with the bank board. He believes that intervention is helping county leaders reach two goals.

"Create a good quality project for the citizens of this community at the same time protects the taxpayers of Charleston County," Summey said.

The agreement between county and state officials means both sides can move forward in funding, planning, and building more links to I-526.

"This traffic down here is just so...I mean you get to my age you don't really want to get out in it," said Joan Wilson, a James Island resident.

Wilson thinks the project will ease traffic tie-ups on major arteries like Maybank Highway and River Road.

"I think that's great. I think it’s really needed. And it will be a lot of help to a lot of people," she said.

Others worry the effort won't do what its intended.

"I think that the completion of 526 would cause more issues maybe. I think currently it’s a big project to put on the city," said Graham Hartley, a Johns Island resident.

For now, local leaders are shifting into high gear to get it built.

Summey says consultants and engineers will get to work on Friday. It'll take 12 to 18 months to finish permitting. Construction could start in 2 years, depending if anyone decides to file a lawsuit to stop it.

Dana Beach, founder of the Coastal Conservation League, voiced his disappointment in an interview with local interviewer Quintin Washinton.

Beach said he believes members of the SIB and DOT failed to do their due diligence on behalf of the taxpayers.

"So the short story is, we don't know how much it will cost," Beach said. "It could be $800 million. It could be $900 million. Or it could still be $725 million."

He adds that the language in the half-cent sales tax referendum approved by voters did not list which road projects it would fund, so essentially that voters did not approve spending tax money for this project.

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