The state of South Carolina is moving to take control of the Interstate 526 extension project in Charleston after it has stalled for years on the local level. The State Infrastructure Bank’s board, which helps secure loans and bonds for major construction projects, voted unanimously last week to shift responsibility for the project from Charleston County to the state Department of Transportation.
The plan will still have to be approved by the state Transportation Commission before it can take control.
“It just appeared that nothing was happening fast one way or the other,” said Chip Limehouse, a Charleston legislator who serves on the bank’s board, “The County Council was not rejecting the project. But they were not moving forward and accepting the project.”
The proposed $435 million extension would connect I-526’s terminus on U.S. 17 with the James Island Expressway. The county accepted the Infrastructure Bank funds in 2007, but massive opposition from some James Island and John Island residents stalled the project.
Environmentalists have accused state officials of forcing the highway onto Charleston residents who overwhelmingly opposed it at the county level. The county council voted in April not to move forward with the project. However, they reconsidered after Infrastructure Bank officials warned the county would have to repay the Bank $12 million for right-of-way acquisitions and other work that has already been completed.
Limehouse said the board wants action after years of delay and decided to take the controversial issue out of the county’s hands, “We’ve given everybody an opportunity to get out and toss the political hot potato back to the state,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “Hopefully the state… will either make mashed potatoes with it or toss it away.”
He said he understood residents’ concerns, however. Limehouse added that, if the project does proceed, transportation officials could look to limit the number of interchanges on the new highway or Charleston County could have strict zoning along the road to keep development from destroying the rural character of James and Johns islands.