Close vote expected in I-526 extension controversy

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Expect a close vote Tuesday when Charleston County Council looks at options to finish Interstate 526.

Council Vice Chairman Elliot Summey says the vote could be 5-4 when the debate ends.

The state Infrastructure Bank is giving the county 60 days to pay back $11.8 million that has already been spent on the project, if officials decide to abandon building it.

Summey says the pressure is on the council members.

"Oh, a ton, a ton, financially we're in a do-or-die situation," Summey said Friday.

Summey says the council needs to bite the bullet and build the extension.

"I'm going to be hard pressed to look my people in the eye in North Charleston and say we wasted $11.6 million of your money and you got to pay it back, and they don't live anywhere near this portion of 526," Summey said

Another problem is that the loan from the state bank only covers $420 million. The county needs $489 million to finish the entire project.

Summey said one alternative may be to build the parkway in phases, which could cost less.

He said the first phase most likely would stretch from West Ashley to Johns Island, bypassing James Island, hopefully with the blessing from the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

"I think the number one thing has to happen, we've got to get ourselves out of default," Summey warned. "We are in default, there's no question about that."

A letter from the deputy county attorney to council members states the county is in default with the infrastructure bank and has to look at other options.

Councilman Dickie Schweers disagrees on the default issue and has reservations about completing the project.

"I have always felt interstates don't solve traffic problems and we do have local traffic issues that we need to work on," Schweers said.

Right now the issue is whether the county will ever build the last 10 miles of the expressway.

"We've spent $11 million to give away a half a billion and I think that's not common sense, and I think cooler heads will prevail on Tuesday," Summey said.

The council will meet as a finance committee Tuesday afternoon and then vote that night on what to do about the expressway project.

The Coastal Conservation League is threatening a lawsuit if the highway is extended.

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