A South Carolina transportation funding agency has agreed to revive the Interstate 526 completion project near Charleston, just months after it voted to pull out of the proposed agreement to finish it.
The state Transportation Infrastructure Bank agreed to come back to the table in a 5-2 vote after Charleston County agreed to more than double the amount it would pay for construction. The plan to negotiate a new agreement came after Gov. Henry McMaster organized meetings between county leaders and bank chairman John White in August.
“The completion of 526 is very important to the future of our state. Everything we do is based on infrastructure,” Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters after the meeting. “It’s going to take years to build. We need to get started.”
The Infrastructure Bank pledged $420 million for the project in 2007, with Charleston County agreeing to cover the remaining costs. However, the project’s total cost has ballooned since then. Charleston County Council Chair Elliott Summey told the bank’s board on Tuesday the county would be willing to bump up its contribution from $117 million to $305 million.
However, he did not say where the county would get the additional money. A previous lack of specifics led the bank board to pull out of the project in a 4-3 vote back in June.
“There’s a very grateful Charleston,” Summey told McMaster. “Without Henry McMaster, there is no 526.”
There is still a long way to go before work can begin. Tuesday’s vote was only to rescind the June decision and the county would still need to reach new terms with the bank. Senate President Hugh Leatherman also insisted legislators on the Joint Bond Review Committee would need to approve any agreement, since they also signed off on the original project. Summey and others disagreed with him on Tuesday.
“The taxpayers have got to be protected, to make sure the parties put forth whatever monies they agree to,” Leatherman said during the meeting.
Environmentalists have long opposed the project, which would extend I-526’s current terminus in the West Ashley region to its originally-planned ending in downtown Charleston. The Coastal Conservation League worries construction and resulting development could damage scenic marsh along the proposed route.