Charleston County I-526 lawsuit jeopardizes future road funding

Charleston County I-526 lawsuit jeopardizes future road funding
July 28 15:57 2017 Print This Article

Charleston County filed a lawsuit against the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) Thursday with the South Carolina Supreme Court, claiming a breach of contract in the 2014 agreement to complete I-526 and connect West Ashley with Johns Island and Johns Island with James Island. Regardless of the Supreme Court decision, the move could jeopardize future road funding for Charleston County. Here is a summary of the July 20 STIB meeting:

The STIB committed $420 Million toward the project in 2012. The 2014 contract obligated Charleston County to cover the remaining costs, estimated to be $305 Million, and any cost over-runs. State Senate President Hugh Leatherman wanted Charleston County to identify specific funding sources for its local share. While the County Council did vote for committing $150 Million toward the project and secured a pledge for the remainder from the Charleston Area Transportation Study Committee (CHATS) using federal Guideshares funds, it did not identify a specific funding source. Charleston County voters approved a $2.1 Billion transportation sales tax in Nov. 2016, but County Council would not commit those funds.

Senator Leatherman is arguably the most powerful person in South Carolina politics. In addition to being the Senate President, he is also the Senate Finance Committee Chairman. He determines which projects get funded. By filing the lawsuit against the STIB, Charleston County will go to the bottom of the list for future road funding. Former State Representative Chip Limehouse is the only Charleston-area vote on the 7-member STIB board.

Charleston County Council should have met the STIB request for a specific funding source. I don’t have any idea how the South Carolina Supreme Court will rule on the breach of contract lawsuit or how long it will take to reach a ruling, but it is clear that the county’s decision will delay the project and possibly scuttle it. It will definitely put Charleston in a bad position for getting future state road funding.