Wednesday, May 8, 2019 Blog · News

Contract review continues on I-526

by Jason Crowley

Today, the state’s Joint Bond Review Committee demonstrated fiscal concern for Charleston County taxpayers when it decided to carefully review and digest data gathered by a subcommittee studying the contract for the Interstate 526 extension. And instead of charging ahead with a vote, committee members again requested still-outstanding legal assurances from Charleston County.

JBRC member Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Oconee), who is chairman of the subcommittee studying the contract, said that group will meet one more time for a final analysis before the next JBRC meeting. Neither of those meetings has been scheduled.

Alexander raised serious concerns about the proposed contract for I-526 including whether it’s legal for Charleston County Council to bind future councils with a more than $305 million expense for the project, which now has an estimated $725 million price tag.

He also expressed concern about whether Charleston County has the authority to divert money from its half-cent sales tax to I-526 when the extension wasn’t on project lists that came before voters in 2004 or 2016.

In fact, in 2016, council members initially discussed adding the I-526 extension to the suggested and advertised list of projects the half-cent sales tax might fund. But they ultimately chose to leave it off the project list (described in Ordinance #1907), assuming the extension would guarantee that the referendum would fail.

In a Post and Courier editorial, Councilman Herb Sass urged voters to support the increase and pledged that I-526 and the half-cent tax were two separate issues. Less than a week before the election, local leaders organized a press event to encourage voters to support the half-cent hike and displayed the final project list — without I-526. Days later, the 2016 referendum passed by the slimmest of margins, garnering barely 51 percent of the vote.

Alexander’s concerns are similar to those of the Coastal Conservation League. We stand opposed to the contract because it would:

  • Allow the I-526 extension project to rob other important projects of funding.
  • Reject the will of Charleston County residents.
  • Tie the hands of future local leaders so they can’t address real priorities, like flooding and transit.

At the meeting Wednesday, Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston) and some other state officials said Charleston County is growing and has a strong economy, so, unlike some counties in the state, it can afford to cover more than $305 million for I-526.

We’re shocked by the characterization that Charleston County is flush with road-building and infrastructure funds. If the county has so much money, why hasn’t it funded “the pitchfork” plan to alleviate traffic congestion at the intersection of Maybank Highway and River Road on Johns Island? Why don’t we have better roads to serve the area around our growing airport, and why does our hospital district flood so severely it becomes a public safety hazard?

We know we’re not alone in our concerns. More than 1,400 people have signed our petition calling on Charleston County to uphold its half-cent commitments. If you haven’t signed already, you can do that here.

We will continue to fight the political effort to get a green light for one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in our state’s history — one that ultimately won’t improve traffic congestion and instead will destroy neighborhoods in West Ashley and James Island and exacerbate sprawl on our rural Sea Islands.

This contract is a bad deal all around, and we are considering all options to stop it from moving forward. We will keep you posted on our next steps.

For now, please sign and share our petition:

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