CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) — A long-delayed plan to finish I-526 is dead.
At a hearing Thursday, the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank voted against extending the deadline for Charleston to come up with its share of the project cost, and then moved ahead with plans to allocate money already set aside for it to other projects.
The total cost to extend I-526 from West Ashley across Johns Island to Folly Road on James Island is nearly $725 million. The bank put up $420 million, but said Charleston-area leaders had to come up with more than $300 million to cover the balance. A December deadline for a funding plan was extended to March, but Thursday the bank refused to extend it any further.
The board vote was 4-to-1 against the project, with Rep. Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston) the only one supporting it. The bank then set in motion the process of allocating the $420 million to other road projects across the state.
Several Lowcountry leaders went to Columbia to plead their cases. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey, and Rep. Leon Stavrinakis all pitched a plan to pay for the project through a combination of tolls and taxes.
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce released a statement following the vote:
We are extremely disappointed in the decision made today by the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board to withdraw the $420 million commitment to fund the completion of I-526. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce has been a strong proponent for the completion of I-526 for many years. Working with Charleston County and City of Charleston leaders, we feel the funding path presented today is a good plan and demonstrates to the STIB that the community is committed to completing this road.
Our region is now growing at an estimated 48 people per day, according to US Census estimates. The West Ashley, James Island, and Johns Island areas already have heavy traffic congestion and it is crucial that we find transportation solutions.
According to an analysis by the EIS Study Team on the proposed completion, virtually every major road in the Metro area, south of the Cooper River, would have lower traffic volumes if I-526 was completed. The purpose of the road is to relieve pressure from traffic using the Savannah Highway/Wesley Road/Folly Road corridor and the studies show that it would successfully perform this function.
We are now left without an option to ease congestion, increase mobility and address safety issues, such as hurricane evacuation routes, in this part of our region.
We will be working with the City, County and others in trying to identify alternative road options to address these critical issues for our region.