There has been tremendous uncertainty in recent years concerning the I-526 completion project. The State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) allocated $420 Million to connect the unfinished portion of the road, extending from near the Citadel Mall to James Island back in 2012. In 2015, the SIB declared that the funds would not be committed unless Charleston County provided a $300 Million local match.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey recently sent a letter to SIB Chairman Vince Graham and the other six board members asking for a compromise plan to complete the project. The letter stressed the project’s value to the community in relieving traffic congestion and providing a hurricane evacuation route for people living on the sea islands in Charleston County.
The letter called for the $420 Million allocation from the SIB to connect the West Ashley portion of I-526 with Johns Island. Charleston County would be obligated to pay for legal fees associated with the permitting process, any cost overruns in construction and all funding for connecting Johns Island and James Island in a second construction phase.
The Charleston officials also pledged to use revenue from the proposed 0.5% sales tax increase referendum on the November ballot to pay for four overpasses for cargo rail lines leaving from the North Charleston port facility at a projected cost of $150 Million. Norfolk Southern Railroad currently carries cargo containers from port terminals to an “inland port” facility in Greer, SC (home of the BMW plant). Expanding the rail transport system would eventually take 100,000 container trucks off of I-26.
State Representative Chip Limehouse recently spoke on the matter with WTMA talk radio host Charlie James. Limehouse, one of seven SIB members, supports the completion of I-526. He remains skeptical that Chairman Vince Graham would call a board meeting to discuss the offer from Tecklenburg and Summey before the sales tax increase referendum is voted on Nov. 8.