Charleston Co. residents, council react to Mark Clark Expressway cost tripling

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:35 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2022 at 4:10 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Transportation revised its estimate of the cost of completing the extension of I-526 to James Island, projecting a cost of $2.35 billion.

A 2019 figure developed in 2014 estimated the cost to be between $725 million and $752 million for 9.5 miles of road. The new cost estimate roughly triples that old figure.

The decades-long debate about the project means it is not a new topic for people who live in Charleston County, or the Charleston County Council. A few James Island residents came to the Tuesday night County Council meeting to reiterate their opinions on the project, as well as the new price tag.

Bradley Taggart is the co-founder of “Charlestonians for I-526,” a social media movement in support of the project. He attended the meeting to express continued support.

“We have been in the midst of a historic commodities bubble brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. I am asking you to not make a long-term transportation decision based on a short-term fluctuation in commodities prices,” Taggart said.

Rich Thomas, a James Island resident and member of the “Nix 526″ group, has been advocating against the project for years. For him, this feels like the last straw, calling the revised $2.35 billion price tag is “an absolutely astounding amount of money.”

“It’s absolutely insane to be contemplating continuing with something that costs this much money when there are so many pressing needs in the county,” Thomas said.

After the meeting, Councilman Brantley Moody of District 7 said most of the council still supports the project, after all the debates.

“It’s usually the same cast of characters and you know the bottom line is it’s we’re crazy economy, hyperinflation supply chain problems,” Moody said. “It’s a tough time to be bidding projects like this. So who knows what it could look like in a couple years. But the longer we wait, the more it’s going to be.”

County Council will have a meeting with SCDOT Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall on May 6 to get a more detailed breakdown of the new estimate and plan. When asked about where the money will come from for the new cost, Moody said the council has to figure that out.

“We just got the news. So we’ve got a nut to crack, so we’ll get to work,” Moody said.

City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg expressed continued support for the project in a resolution at City Council Tuesday evening:

No question, the cost estimates for major infrastructure projects in South Carolina are exploding, and 526 is no exception. But that doesn’t change the fact that our West Ashley and Island residents need and deserve the traffic relief and public safety improvements this project will bring.

Charleston City Council unanimously approved the resolution in support Tuesday night. County Council members did not respond to the public comments during the meeting, but said off-camera they are looking forward to the meeting with SCDOT to learn more about the breakdown.

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