Bonding decision on I-526 delayed

by John Steinberger | May 8, 2019 11:02 am

Senator Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), Chairman of the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC), sent the bonding decision for the I-526 completion project back to a subcommittee Wednesday. The subcommittee previously heard testimony from the SC Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB), state Secretary of Transportation Christie Hall, Charleston County transportation staff, and an independent bonding consultant on the financial details of the $725 Million project to connect West Ashley with Johns Island and James Island.

The STIB initially committed $420 million to the I-526 completion project in 2007. After years of delay, the infrastructure bank voted to terminate the project in June 2018. At the request of Governor Henry McMaster, STIB gave the project further consideration and agreed to an amended contract with SCDOT and Charleston County in January 2019. Charleston County is responsible for all project costs beyond the $420 million committed by STIB, $40 million of which has already been spent on right-of-way acquisitions and other costs.

Representative Leon Stavrinakis (D-West Ashley) called for a vote by the JBRC at its Wednesday meeting. He noted that Charleston County Council can meet its obligation through its $2.1 billion transportation sales tax, approved by voters in 2016. He also noted that no specific road projects were listed on the ballot referendum and that County Council has the flexibility to spend the money as needed. Stavrinakis added that Charleston County has an additional $130 million in bonding authority, if needed. Charleston County has already issued its first payment of $6.3 million.

Senator Thomas Alexander (R-Walhalla) stated repeatedly that the subcommittee he chairs needs more time to look at the details of the financing before JBRC votes to approve bonding. House Ways and Means Chair Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) disagreed, stating, “I don’t think we’ll get more clarity (on financing) than we have now.” Smith added that he has never seen any county make such a large commitment to a transportation project. Leatherman sided with his Senate colleague and sent the matter back to subcommittee.

In addition to Alexander and Stavrinakis, the subcommittee members are Senator Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek) and Representative Gary Simrill (R-Rock Hill). No date has been set for the subcommittee meeting. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) asked Alexander and Leatherman to offer timely resolution on the bond decision.

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