Members of the state infrastructure financing bank board voted Thursday to give Charleston County additional time to come up with its share of a $720 million plan to extend Interstate 526 into downtown Charleston.
The South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SCTIB) Board voted Thursday to take up the controversial project at its next meeting, which is not yet scheduled. However, it’s still not clear where the county would get the money without dramatically increasing taxes or creating toll roads.
The state board has previously set aside $420 million for the project, but an intergovernmental agreement requires the county to make up the difference between that grant and the project’s total cost. The board voted to close the books on the project last year after Charleston County officials did not come up with a specific funding plan for the $300 million more needed.
Charleston County Council has passed a resolution with several ideas on how to raise the money, but the county has yet to back a specific plan required for the project to get federal approval.
Part of the problem is that completing I-526 along its planned route would require it go over scenic marshes along James Island. While supporters hope it could ease bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic across the West Ashley and Johns Island, the resulting environmental impact makes the plan controversial even among many Charleston natives. The Coastal Conservation League has led local opposition to the project.
Charleston-area politicians hope the board will be more sympathetic to the project under new chairman John White, Jr. Gov. Henry McMaster appointed White to the board after removing previous chairman Vincent Graham in March. Charleston County leaders fumed with Graham, appointed by former Gov. Nikki Haley, over the board’s decision not to hear their case after May 2016. State Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, even going so far as to call for Graham’s ouster. In a letter to McMaster two weeks ago, Senn claimed “single-handedly delayed the work of the SIB by repeatedly refusing to call meetings or by canceling meetings when he knew that Charleston had the votes to move our projects forward.”