Committee stops short of vote for funding I-526 completion

Committee stops short of vote for funding I-526 completion
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis speaks during the meeting on Wednesday

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - In a meeting Wednesday morning in Columbia, the Joint Bond Review committee stopped short of approving the state’s portion of the funding contract for the extension of I-526.

The state has been analyzing the contract before completely committing to finishing the project because it is on the hook for $420 million while Charleston County would pay $305 million of the total $725 million cost.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis moved to have the contract approved, but others wanted more time to think it over and committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman didn’t let any kind of vote happen.

One of the more vocal advocates against the vote was state Sen. Thomas Alexander, who wanted more time to review materials presented by SCDOT Chairwoman Christie Hall and others.

“There are open matters this committee needs to be aware of and Mr. Chairman that is why I’m making a status report for this committee today as an agenda item and for our subcommittee to do some due diligence,” Alexander said. “As was outlined in the agreement, it requires a legal opinion from the county and perhaps from the bank, that has not been provided.”

“I’m not opposed to the project,” Alexander continued later in the meeting. “I just want to make sure we do what is necessary.”

Alexander attempted to argue that the meeting agenda only included receiving an update and that no vote was scheduled to take place.

At the center of the issue is whether Charleston County has the legal authority to use funds from the half-cent sales tax in 2004 and 2016 to fund its portion of the project.

“We can all pretend that creates some kind of legal ambiguity,” Stavrinakis said Wednesday. “But it doesn’t. They signed a contract, they can’t change that commitment. They are committed to that contract once it goes forward, which it has.”

The Coastal Conservation League opposes using the half-cent tax because they say voters approved the tax hike in 2004 and 2016, but I-526 wasn’t on the project list of either referendum when the vote happened. CCL officials say the funding would tie the hands of any future projects like the need to address flooding and transit in the Lowcountry.

Charleston County officials say that the ballot question in those years included roads, which I-526 would fall under.

In a meeting in early April, Charleston County councilman Elliot Summey continued to try and convince state lawmakers the county has the money it needs to fund its portion. Officials are convinced they can fund it using portions of the 2004 and 2016 half-cent sales tax.

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