South Carolina’s infrastructure funding bank has signed off on a plan that would extend Interstate 526 into downtown Charleston from its current terminus in West Ashley.
The Infrastructure Bank board voted 5-2 this afternoon to finish work on the on-again-off-again project, which has been delayed after the state refused to go above its original $420 million set aside for the now-$725 million estimated price tag.
Under the deal revealed Thursday, the bank would continue to offer its previous pledge (minus money already spent for planning work), while Charleston County and South Carolina’s Department of Transportation would cover the remaining cost.
Board member and supporter Chip Limehouse called it a “turnaround” after the bank initially voted to end its role in the project last year. Gov. Henry McMaster vowed to bring the parties together over the summer until an agreement could be brokered.
“This board voted to unwind the project in June and here we are today,” Limehouse said. “We’re set to go forward on an agreement with the county.”
But fellow board member Hugh Leatherman questioned if Charleston County could come up with such a large amount of money. According to the board, the county plans to cover its share through its sales tax and transportation tax.
“I want to make sure that I’m doing due diligence in trying to determine if this is in the best interest of the people of South Carolina,” he said, noting he does not necessarily oppose finishing the project.
Transportation officials have envisioned for years that I-526 would connect with the James Island connector so beltway traffic could eventually drive directly onto the Charleston peninsula. The current plan would have the interstate become a parkway as it passes across Johns and James islands.
Environmental groups are worried about the potential consequences for the marshland between both islands, particularly if more development follows the road’s path. Charleston County has agreed it will cover any legal costs which arise in the future.
No timeline is in place for the project at this point.