I-526 widening expected to cost $500 million; extension project still in the works

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Relief to some of the congestion on I-526 could be on the way. Adding more lanes to the interstate is now a top priority for the SC Highway Commission. The project would widen 526 to six lanes.

Tuesday, the commission asked the State Infrastructure Bank for money to fund the project, but it will not be a cheap endeavor.

"It's such a large number. It's $534 million to do 19.44 miles. That's $27.5 million a mile, so it's a very expensive project," said Jim Rozier, the 1st congressional district's highway commissioner.

Rozier represents most of the tri-county area and Beaufort County. He says 526 is in desperate need of widening.

"It's just 19 and a half miles of heavy, heavy traffic. So safety and convenience is what it's all about," said Rozier.

The proposal is possible because the Infrastructure Bank was recently awarded more money. The bank is responsible for funding large highway projects costing over $100 million.

Joe Coleman, a driver, agrees with Rozier. He said, "The traffic at certain times of the day is unbelievable. It's just real slow. It would certainly be a help, but you're going to have some people who don't want it for whatever reason."

David Breaker, a former truck driver said, "Especially over in the Mount Pleasant area. It would be nice to have it where the port truckers can get in and out to get their job done for the community without any hassle."

If the plan makes it through, commissioner Rozier says results won't happen overnight.

"You're looking at several years. You're not looking at tomorrow morning. It's an involved process," said Rozier.

Rozier says this project of adding more lanes is entirely different from the extension project through Johns and James Islands.

"DOT is the sponsor of this project. The extension of 526, Charleston County is the sponsor of that project. Two totally different projects," said Rozier.

On August 7th the Highway Commission will meet with the State Infrastructure Bank to discuss adding more lanes to all of I-526.

The extension project will also be discussed in the same meeting.

Next for 1-526 extension project

Plans to extend the interstate to Johns and James Islands are moving forward.

Charleston County Vice Chairman Elliott Summey said they will meet with the State Infrastructure Bank on August 7th.

Summey says the bank will decide whether to accept the new terms of agreement, which includes the county running the project.

This is the biggest development since December when council voted to take over the project.

Over the last seven months, council has been working through legal matters with the Infrastructure Bank.

If the bank accepts the new terms of the agreement at the meeting, the next step will be to pick an engineering firm. Summey says that could take up to 90 days.

When council took over the project, they voted for the "Alternate G" design plan. Summey says the section will look more like a parkway than an interstate. The top speed will be 50 miles per hour and he says there won't be any stop lights along the way.

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