COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - Despite a resolution from the State Infrastructure Bank Board that appears to kill the project to complete I-526, Charleston County Council's chairman says it's not over yet.
Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey said Thursday he will fight for the $420 million the SIB had allocated for the completion.
"It became more evident to me today that when we're dealing with the state of South Carolina there's no things that are certain," Summey said after the SIB Board returned from executive session with an apparent death blow to the project in the form of a resolution stating Charleston County had failed to meet a Dec. 15 deadline to fund a $353 million shortfall, thereby breaking the contract with the bank.
With the I-526 project now off the bank board's list it means the county loses $420 million that was already set aside for the highway.
Summey said the county would pursue all of its options.
"It's our money," he said after the meeting. "We have a $3.5 billion need in Charleston County and we need every penny we can get."
Summey said the county matched $117 million in order to get the SIB to allocate $420 million to complete I-526. Summey says that money should still go to Charleston County.
Supporters said the county abided by the contract.
"They said we'll pay the balance of the project, let's just move and get the project done, but this board has determined to undermine this project and terminate it obviously," Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said.
Rep. Chip Limehouse, who serves on the SIB Board, said Charleston County would have to reapply to the bank for the money.
The motion the board defeated would have given the county until May 26, 2017 to complete a toll study and prepare an environmental impact statement, which would have been done at the same time.
Tecklenburg called for a new deadline for the end of the year to allow for a new toll study to determine how much revenue a toll road would generate.
Tecklenburg had proposed the combination of a toll road and sales tax to fund the shortfall. He referred to a 2005 toll study that reported $162 million could be raised by a toll and called for a new toll study. He said $137 million in sales tax revenue and $162 million from the toll could pay for the extension project.
Tensions ran high at the meeting in Columbia before the vote was taken. Board members debated with Summey and Rep. Leon Stavrinakis about the project.
"You can't wave a magic wand and come up with $305 million," Stavrinakis said.
Summey banged his fist on the lectern as he argued with board members about whether the county had fulfilled its commitment in the contract to complete the project.
The county was given until March 30 to come up with a plan to cover a $353 million shortfall in the project. The contract stipulated if the county could not come up with that money by that deadline, the State Infrastructure Bank could release the $420 million already set aside for the project after 60 days.
Sunday marks the 60-day mark from the March 30 deadline.
Tecklenburg told board members finishing I-526 would include a bike and pedestrian path and would improve public transportation, provide relief for traffic congestion and would provide a safer evacuation route during hurricanes.
But not everyone attending the meeting supported the project.
"The Concern is hurricane evacuation route, the solution is a flyover at main and 17," Natalie Olson with the South Carolina Coastal Conservative League said.
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis told board members there is "gridlock" all over West Ashley and James Island. Stavrinakis said the community is committed to finishing the project, a view challenged by SIB Chairman Vince Graham who pointed out there is opposition to the project.
Members from the Coastal Conservation League, which opposes the I-526 extension, are also attending the meeting.
Stavrinakis responded by saying there is always some opposition to road projects.
Summey told the board the completion of I-526 is necessary for rapid transit.
"We have to get cars off I-26," Summey said.
The Completion Project would extend I-526, which currently stretches over 19 miles from Mount Pleasant to West Ashley, onto James Island. The project will include an interchange at Folly Road and an extra seven to eight miles of interstate in order for I-526 to connect from Savannah Highway.
The project was estimated to cost between $725 and $750 million dollars, making it the most expensive transportation facility in state history, board members say.