CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Hundreds of millions of dollars could be leaving the Lowcountry, and that has leaders here scrambling to find solutions.
The State Infrastructure Bank has decided it could withdraw $420 million approved for the Mark Clark Extension project, unless Charleston County pays the $300-plus million extra it could cost to complete the project. The SIB has given the county a deadline, one that SCDOT Commission Chairman Jim Rozier said puts Charleston County in an impossible situation.
While there was talk of a toll to help fund the 526 completion project, Rozier said there would not be enough traffic for tolls to pay for it. Rozier said a combination of tolls and a sales tax could possibly work, but he may not be in a position to weigh in on a solution. His term as chairman of the Commission ends in mid-January, and his seat on the commission expires in February.
Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey contends the SIB's ultimatum violates state law.
"We have a binding contract, and if they're going to change the terms, they're doing it illegally," he said. Summey called the SIB's decision a political money grab. "They see Charleston as weak because we don't have Bobby Harrell and Glenn McConnell any more," Summey said. His biggest concern is the money leaving Charleston.
"Any time someone is trying to take $400 million from the Charleston community, I'm going to fight," he said. "We have a lot of people moving here and a lot of congestion, and we have to protect every allocation."
Summey seems to be pointing his finger at Senator Hugh Leatherman.
"The State of South Carolina has a Hugh Leatherman Port Terminal with 50-thousand more trucks a year coming off the navy base," Summey said. "There are no plans to widen the port access road, he's dumping on Charleston with no repercussions and no remorse."
If the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to Mark Clark Extension Project aren't used on 526, the money is not guaranteed to stay in the Lowcountry.
"We've been told it would go into a pot," Rozier said. But he said he believes the funding should be dedicated for use in the Lowcountry, and suggested widening the port access road and widening I-26 from Summerville to the 385 turnoff to Greenville.
"Have you driven to Columbia lately?" he asked. "The highway is filled with trucks. All eight highway commissioners agree that [I-26] is the number one need in South Carolina and we would love to see the money used for that if 526 is not going to happen. I-26 is a desperate situation, and the port serves the entire state."
Charleston County has until March 30 to decide how to come up with the money required to build the extension of I-526 to John's Island.
The interstate now ends in West Ashley.