The longstanding debate in the Lowcountry on how I-526 should be completed, or if it should even be finished at all, may be put to the voters.
The Charleston County Council will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether the Mark Clark Expressway/I-526 project should be put before voters on the November 6 ballot. Wednesday is the deadline for any referendums to be submitted to the State Election Commission. Councilman Vic Rawl has said he plans to introduce the referendum question at Tuesday’s meeting, which was moved up in the week to beat the deadline.
The proposed construction that would link the expressway’s current terminus at U.S. 17 with the James Island Expressway has been controversial for nearly four decades. Environmental groups oppose the project, as do some council members concerned about its half-billion dollar (and climbing) price tag.
Charleston County councilmember Vic Rawl told the Post & Courier that the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) had spent $36,000 mailing survey questions to 5,000 Lowcountry households on the matter. Rawl said the issue should be a ballot question for all voters. Rawl could not be reached Friday.
However, several other council members oppose the referendum, especially since it specifically rules out SCDOT’s preferred plan for the project (dubbed “Alternate G”) and would not require the consent of the towns through which it passes (such as the City of Charleston).
Councilman Dickie Schweers said he does not think the county has the authority to ignore Charleston’s wishes. “I don’t know that you could craft a suitable referendum question,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “This is a very complicated process that we have been bogged down on for quite some time.”
The referendum would be non-binding and is only meant to gauge public sentiment on the matter. The deadline for putting the matter on the November 6 ballot is Wednesday.
Sheree Bernardi of Charleston affiliate WTMA and Matt Long contributed to this report.