July 22, 2014

Speaker Harrell on I-526: This whole debate is over 7 miles of road

Harrell says 526 must be completed.

The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank board Thursday decided to put an additional $138 million toward the completion of Interstate 526 leading into Charleston, otherwise known as the Mark Clark Expressway.

This means a total of $558 million, which the South Carolina Department of Transportation says is needed to complete the roadway. The Bank had pledged $420 million in 2010, with the stipulation that Charleston County would handle the project. But with this additional $130 million approved, it appears the state could take over the project.

I-526 currently ends at U.S. Highway 17 west of Charleston. For years, highway officials and some Charleston leaders have wanted to connect it with the James Island Expressway. However, there has been strong opposition in the Johns Island and James Island community from those who worry about possible sprawl.

Charleston Representative and House Speaker Bobby Harrell says it is time to finish I-526. But Harrell says the roadway will probably not be completed as a true interstate highway.

“I think the road that you see across Johns and James Island will be more akin to the Glenn McConnell Parkway,” Harrell told Charleston affiliate WTMA, “The kind of a road where the speed limits will be 45 or 50 mph, in that range, rather than being 70 mph like an interstate would be. But the distance we are talking about is only seven miles. In fact, that’s one of the ironies about this long debate that we’ve had. This whole debate has been over seven miles of road.”

A proposed referendum that would have posed the question of I-526′s future to Charleston County voters was rejected by the county council Tuesday. Harrell says the completed roadway will do more than just ease growing congestion in daily traffic flow, but that is creates an excellent hurricane evacuation route.

WTMA’s Sheree Bernardi contributed to this report.