I-526 expansion faces challenges as future lies with council

By Tracey Amick and Alex Kreitman  bio | email

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – The proposed Interstate 526 expansion project has created controversy among residents, which has prompted the South Carolina Department of Transportation to put the project's fate in the hands of Charleston County officials.

The SCDOT agreed to manage the project for Charleston County in June 2007. SCDOT held five public hearings to discuss the draft of the project. More than half of the speakers at the hearings were opposed to the project.

In a letter to Charleston County Administrator Allen O'Neil, Secretary of Transportation H.B. Limehouse wrote:

"Based on the public comments submitted, controversy surrounding the project, funding uncertainties, and the high profile nature of the project, a formal declaration stating the County's position regarding the future of this project is warranted."

The public submitted 1,657 comments about the project and of those comments, 1,033 (62 percent) of them were opposed to the project. Just 522 (32 percent) of the individuals who submitted comments supported the project. The other 6 percent who submitted comments didn't oppose or support the project. Residents were asked to submit comments by mail, through the project website, at public hearings or through a project phone hotline.

The towns of James Island and Folly Beach submitted letters of opposition to the project while the towns of Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island and the city of Charleston submitted letters of support.

The project would connect Folly Road at the James Island connector with I-526 where it intersects U.S. Highway 17. The expansion of I-526 would include eight more miles of highway including five miles of bridges.

As it stands, the plan calls for the relocation of 22 homeowners and four businesses.

Funding for the project will be a challenge.

"The $421 million that's been committed by the state infrastructure bank plus and additional $69 million because every time a project is delayed the price changes, it goes up," Limehouse said.

Council chairman Teddie Pryor said they voted years ago to move forward with the project, so it would take five opposing council members before they even consider the no-build alternative.

The council will discuss the SCDOT's update at its meeting Thursday night.

"The county must decide whether to continue with the development of the Final EIS over the next 10-12 months. If the County cannot continue to support the project, then the no-build alternative can be officially recommended at this time. A formalized decision by Charleston County, the owner of the project, on the path forward will provide clear guidance to the department as it continues to manage the project," Limehouse said in the letter.

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