Charleston County loses state contract for I-526

Charleston County loses state contract for I-526
June 27 16:16 2018 Print This Article

The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) board voted 4-3 Tuesday to end the contract with Charleston County for the completion of I-526. The contract was initially signed in 2007, when the board committed $420 Million for the project, which would connect West Ashley to Johns Island and Johns Island to James Island. The project is now estimated to cost $725 Million, and STIB has asked Charleston County to come up with the balance. STIB financial staffer Joe Holley remarked, “For the project to survive, the county needed to provide a viable, realistic funding plan.” Charleston County submitted a 32-page document to STIB on March 15 entitled Mark Clark Expressway Financial Plan which identified local funding sources. Holley indicated that county officials provided “no meaningful response” to his questions about the plan during the subsequent months.

STIB board member Joe Taylor, former South Carolina Commerce Secretary, filed a motion to terminate the contract in May, but Governor Henry McMaster advised the board not to take action on it until the June 26 meeting so disputes could be negotiated. There is no public evidence that negotiations actually took place. Both of the appointments under McMaster’s control, Chairman John White of Spartanburg and Ernest Duncan of Aiken, voted to terminate the contract. Taylor and Senate Finance Chair Hugh Leatherman of Florence voted with the majority. Former Charleston Legislator Chip Limehouse, Representative Gary Simrill of Rock Hill, and Ben Davis of Greenwood voted against termination. Charleston County has the option to challenge the decision in state circuit court.

Under the terms of the Mark Clark Expressway Financial Plan, Charleston County agreed to issue up to $150 Million in general obligation bonds and provide $62 Million in transportation sales tax revenue. The Charleston Area Transportation Study Committee (CHATS) committed $105 Million in federal Guideshares funding for the project. At no point during the meeting did board members or Charleston County Council Chairman Vic Rawl even discuss specific local funding sources. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg suggested that his city could assess a toll to assist in funding the project. He even made a remark that the city could hold a bake sale.

Several board members discussed negotiating a new contract for the project. Another option would be for Charleston County to use the federal Guideshares funds and transportation sales tax revenue to pay for the leg connecting West Ashley and Johns Island, which could cost as little as $378 Million, according to county transportation officials. The road would relieve a lot of traffic on Savannah Highway going to and from Kiawah and Seabrook islands.