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Charleston County votes to fund 526 extension

I-526 West (FILE, WCIV)

Update: 6:30 p.m. 1/10/19- Charleston County Council voted to approve county funding for the project. See video of the meeting and vote below:

Charleston County and South Carolina's State Transportation Infrastructure Bank have reached a new funding agreement for the extension of I-526 onto James and Johns Island.

The infrastructure bank (SIB) approved the new funding agreement Thursday after nearly three years of contentious discussion focused on how the county would pay for the project's ballooning costs.

During that period, the SIB canceled its agreement with Charleston County twice, only to be talked back to the table each time.

Full details of the new funding agreement reached Thursday haven't yet been disclosed to the public. ABC News 4 is told the agreement is based on a $710 million total budget, with the state funding $420 million.

Proceeds from a half-cent transportation infrastructure sales tax passed in 2016 may end up being used to pay for the project, county officials said after Thursday's SIB vote.

ABC News 4 is told the agreement also obligates Charleston County to pay for any potential legal fees related to the 526 completion project and the new contract.

The original agreement, forged in 2007, called for the state bank to cover up to $420 million of the project cost, with Charleston County on the hook to raise the rest.

When the original contract was first signed, Charleston County estimated its share of the costs to complete construction at $117 million.

Since then, estimated construction costs to extend I-526 beyond West Ashley have inflated significantly. Estimates in 2018 placed the funds Charleston County needed to raise at nearly $305 million.

With the county failing to deliver a plan for coming up with that additional money, the bank's board voted in June 2018 to end its agreement with the county to provide the $420 million.

Mediation led by Gov. Henry McMaster reportedly got the two sides talking amicably again, and the bank in October 2018 walked back its vote to cancel the funding contract for 526.

County Council reportedly presented a plan to the SIB during those August negotiations outlining how the money would be raised.

Charleston County Council is expected to discuss and vote on their obligations related to the new agreement Thursday night.

Charleston County residents have been at odds for years over calls to extend the Mark Clark Expressway onto James and Johns Islands, which would technically be the completion of the original project as first outlined more than 30 years ago.

Supporters of a 526 extension tout the potential for improved commutes and traffic congestion relief in West Ashley.

Critics have cited financial concerns as well as environmental impact and livability worries for their opposition to the extension.


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