Charleston County Council considers toll road, other options to fund I-526 completion

VIDEO: Charleston County Council considers toll road, other options to fund I-526 completion

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Nearly a decade after getting the green light to expand Interstate 526, Charleston County Council is working to find the funds for its completion.
The Charleston County Finance Committee passed a resolution Thursday, exploring nine potential ways to fund the I-526 completion project. Two of them would come straight from your wallet a toll and a possible sales tax increase.

Officials say the project will cost between $725 to $750 million to complete expansion. The State Infrastructure Bank has set aside $420 million for the project, but the money is at risk of being taken away. The County has to find $350 million or the bank could redistribute funds elsewhere.

Chairman of the Charleston County Council, Elliott Summey says the council is looking for solutions.

"The SIB, State Infrastructure Bank, asked us to explore funding options so we're sending a resolution back saying we are going to explore those options," he said.

He says the state normally takes care of the funding.

"Never in the history of the infrastructure bank, has a project not been fully funded by the bank," Summey said. "But we're going to explore these options because they asked us to in good faith."

The council voted in favor of the draft resolution to explore funding options that include the following:

  • The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, legislation aiming to improve the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure
  • Implementation of a toll road
  • A transportation sales tax referendum
  • Charleston Area Transportation Study Committee federal guide shares
  • Charleston County Transportation Committee
  • Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments
  • Charleston Regional Development Alliance
  • Charleston County Economic Development
  • City of Charleston

"One of our fears is that they would take this money and move it to Florence County, Greenville or Lexington," Summey said. "We feel that money had been committed to Charleston it has been for years."

People who were both for and against the project spoke out about what they feel the county should do about the project at the meeting.

Bart King came to the meeting on behalf of 'Charlestonians for I-526'  he says he has hope the project will continue.

"We are a group of individuals comprised of West Ashley, James Island and Johns Island resident," King said.  "We are stuck in this traffic everyday, we've sent it grown exponentially over the years and it's getting to the point where we're facing gridlock as we try to get home on our commute."

Many were against the project as well. Representatives from the 'Nix: 526 So Much to Lose for So Little Gain' group were present as well as people from other organizations.

"It's been nine years since this project has been proposed and you're not even halfway through the permitting process, so I don't think that it's on schedule, and I don't think that's going to be happening anytime soon," said Natalie Olson with the Coastal Conservation League.

Summey also said permitting for the project stopped and the county was not notified by the other parties involved in the contract. It was by "accident" they found out.

Some people believe the project should be downsized, or money should go to fixing other roads, or funding hurricane evacuation routes.  According to the resolution, the county will have the right to explore reducing the size of the project, depending on how much money will be available.

"If we wanted to toll the road, that would have to be done by referendum and the citizens would have to vote on that in November, any of these solutions aren't things that could happen overnight," Summey said.

The project would extend I-526 from West Ashley through Johns Island, and to Folly Road on James Island.

Mayor Tecklenburg also spoke out at the meeting in favor of the I-526 Completion Project. He said the City of Charleston will do what it can to help find the necessary funds to continue the project.

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