Charleston County commits to funding I-526 extension

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County Council passed an ordinance Thursday afternoon to commit to funding the I-526 extension project.

The ordinance states the county will pledge up to $150 million toward the project. It also will seek an additional $195 million from the Charleston Area Transportation Study Policy Committee.

Thursday's special county council meeting was held for the third reading of the ordinance.

The project would extend I-526 from West Ashley to James and Johns Islands, ending a debate that has been going on for years.

The total cost to extend the interstate would be an estimated $750 million.

In the past, South Carolina's State Infrastructure Bank had committed $420 million to the project, but the bank board has not confirmed whether it will release those funds.

Despite making a commitment for $150 million and seeking $195 million from the CHATS Policy Committee, State Senator Larry Grooms, who is on the CHATS committee, said the group voted to endorse the 526 extension project but did not agree to fund a dollar amount. Also that the CHATS board does not currently have the $195 million the county is asking for.

County Councilman Dickie Schweers said he has concerns the county could try to use Charleston County Sales Tax money to fund the project.

"We debated that (using money for 526) before we ever put that referendum question on the ballot. We stated we would not use half-cent sales tax money fund to fund 526 so that's the only sure thing. All these other things are hoping the federal government will step in, hoping we can use other state money, so there is no certain funds out there other than a half-cent sales tax," Schweers said.

Charleston County Councilman Brantley Moody said the county does not have to specify where the money will come from at this point in the process, "The county has multiple sources of where to fund this thing from and why would we commit to any dollar or any source until we know what the project is going to cost."

State Senator Sandy Senn made a trip down from Columbia to support the project. She said she's concerned the ordinance that passed this afternoon does not hold up the County's deal with the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) in coming up with a plan to fund the project's shortfall.

"Elliot Summey and Mayor Tecklenburg, and all of those members of council that were lined up at SIB, which was the majority of both city and county council, all stood in front of the SIB and said they were going to leave and come back in March with a document, ordinance, resolution, whatever it took to indicate their commitment to the project; and that would include both legs of the project. And that they would indicate a funding source and they did not, they did not identify a funding source," Senn said.

Senn said the County Council was supposed to

"I had senator Leatherman's firm commitment that he would vote for us for this project if they identified a funding source and they committed to the project," Senn said, "County Council did not do what they were supposed to do."

The State Infrastructure Bank Board has its next meeting scheduled for March 14.

The board is expected to discuss the I-526 project.

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