Opposing groups respond to approval of I-526 project

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Commission of the State Department of Transportation voted unanimously to approve modifications to the I-526 project.

According to SC Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, the vote gives the green light for the completion of the extension.

"I think what the people of Charleston are looking for is to see somebody out there actually turning dirt and cutting the road and that it is actually going to happen. I believe the people in our community are just plain tired of all the talk. They're ready to see it get done. That's what this meeting did today."

The project will extend the interstate by seven to eight miles and connect with James and Johns Islands. The agreement will now go to the State Infrastructure Bank or SIB, which has committed to paying the $556 million price tag.

"They're approving a huge grant, and they are going to look at it seriously," says Secretary of Transportation Robert St. Onge. "They could have some concerns about it. So, we'll see."

Onge will ultimately sign off on the project, which is expected to be completed before 2020. 

Charleston County Councilman Elliott Summey says completing 526 is really needed to relieve traffic congestion, especially in West Ashley.

"Savannah Highway is a failing scenario," Summey said."You have 13,000 permitted homes on Johns Island that are not yet built out there. We have evacuation issues when it comes to hurricanes."

Reaction to I-526 approval

Others don`t agree, and say the 526 completion is not needed, will hurt the environment and is a waste of money.

If approved, the project would extend I-526 from West Ashley to James and Johns Island.

Nix 526 and Charlestonians For The Completion of 526 have strong opinions on what should happen with the project.

Supporters are more than confident it will get done.

"Absolutely, I think the unanimous vote in favor of it is definitely an indication that we are on the path to getting things started," said Bev Jenkins with Charlestoninans For The Completion of 526.

Jenkins says the project could benefit the area by relieving traffic.

"They're going to be able to travel straight to Johns Island or West Ashley or people that are crossing that area. They're not going to get caught up on these secondary roads like Folly Road and get stuck in traffic," said Jenkins.

Rich Thomas lives tucked away in rural Johns Island, he represented NIX 526 in Columbia when the unanimous decision was made.

Thomas says the interstate would destroy the natural and social environments that make the area special.

"We think the money could be better spent widening I-26, dealng with the 526 to the port. That's the lifeline to the economy of the state," said Thomas.

Thomas says the attention should go to areas with more economic growth.

"It's at the port; it's around the airport with Boeing. All the facilities that are locating out I-26 that will be supplying Boeing as it expands," said Thomas.

Both sides of argument believe it will work out in their favor.

"There's a lot that has to be done and our enthusiasm remains as strong as it's ever been," said Thomas.

Jenkins said, "I just hope that we can get through all those steps and get the construction started so that maybe possibly by 2020 we're driving on this road."

Thomas says he's also expecting environmental groups on local, state and national levels to take legal action against the project.

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