Ordinance reaffirms Charleston Co. commitment to 526 extension project

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County council members discussed an ordinance Thursday which states the County's commitment to find funding for the I-526 extension project.

During the finance committee meeting, council members looked at the ordinance and started to plan how the County will fund the $300 million shortfall.

The committee passed the ordinance 5-3, sending it into a special council meeting for its first reading.

Council approved an ordinance that states the county commitment will not be more than 150 million dollars, the rest of the money will need to come from federal guide shares, or as County Council member Elliot Summey says is the amount of money the local area gets annually in federal transportation dollars.

A step forward for the 526 project, which new council member Brantley Moody said is what his constituents were asking for during the election.

"That was the number one issue when i campaigned in West Ashley, but this is a thirty, forty-year-old project. The people of West Ashley, I've said it on the record, the people of West Ashley are sick and tired, they want this road done," Moody said.

"I think, quite frankly, it's important for council to reaffirm to both the Department of Transportation and the SIB bank, that we are, in fact, committed to completing the project and to complying with the contract," said County Council Chairman Victor Rawl.

In December, the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SIB) agreed to give the County until its next meeting to come up with a plan for funding the more than $700 million project. The agreement (IGA) was between three parties including the SIB, South Carolina Department of Transportation and Charleston County.

According to the ordinance, the extension project is now estimated at $750 million.

The initial contract designates $420 million from state funds, while Charleston County will have to produce more than $300 million still needed.

Dickie Schweers, a ten-year council member, is concerned about the ordinance. He said the County isn't responsible for any additional funding with the project, or obligated to find funding.

"This is an open ended financial commitment for the County," he said.

The ordinance reads in part:

"WHEREAS, the IGA provides in part in Article V, Section 5.5 that the County shall be responsible for obtaining or providing additional funding for the Project if the available funds are not sufficient to complete the Project within the scope of the Project, reducing the score of the Project to conform to available funding, or some combination thereof;"

Schweers said "additional funding" could be anything from increased construction costs, attorney fees if someone were to sue, or compensation measures.

"It's a risk in my mind," he said. "As a taxpayer myself, I find it a great concern."

Rawl disagrees. He said the ordinance is about reaffirming to SCDOT and the SIB the County's commitment to the project and abiding by the contract.

"Did we not have the same concerns about bringing I-26 into peninsula for the city of Charleston? Did we not have the exact same concerns when we reconfigured the Ravenel Bridge," Rawl said.

The chairman believes the real question is about whether there's a need for the project.

"No [it doesn't concern me]," said Jennifer Schachet, of Johns Island. "We have to go forward. There's so much building going on, on Johns Island that it needs to be addressed."

Schachet said the extension is greatly needed given the amount of traffic that increase on a daily basis.

"Certain times of the day aren't as bad, but peak travel times are always consistent," she said.

Schweers said the County doesn't have the money to pay for the project.

Rawl and other council members said there are bonds that can be put together, and the council is looking at a "pay as you go" system.

"I think if we need it, we need it and we'll pay for it," said Sue, of Edisto Island.

"I'm voting for it, absolutely," council member Elliott Summey said. "It's a safety issue, a quality of life issue, and that's what we have to do."

The council will look at the ordinance two more times before it could possibly go into effect.

Two council members said they wanted to wait until after the meeting before making statements. Messages were not immediately returned for all other council members.

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