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County Agrees To Take On I-526 Funding

Renewed Hopes for completion Take First Step

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March 8, 2017
From Staff Reports

Charleston County Council voted to reaffirm its intention to pay its part, whatever that turns out to be, for the completion of Interstate 526 beltway.

But don’t start a naming contest for the new section of roadway that would bend from where it terminates near Citadel Mall in West Ashley to where it starts again as the Connector on James Island.

Council Chairman Vic Rawl, who represents West Ashley, said the votes just gets the effort “back on track,” and warns that it will still be years before speculation can be replaced by bulldozers and cement trucks.

All the vote this week did, said Rawl, was fulfill the county’s responsibility in the contract it has with the state to complete the project. Next up, said Rawl, would be the tough process of getting an environmental impact study completed.

Other factors may have sped up the process, as Gov. Henry McMaster this week removed Vince Graham as the chair of the State Infrastructure Bank, with which the county has the contract for the road.

Graham, noted for his award-winning I’On development in Mount Pleasant, had been seen as an impediment to the process and a foe of completion.

Additionally, S.C. Coastal Conservation League executive director Dana Beach announced he was stepping down due to health reasons. The Beach-led SCCCL had been a tireless foe of the project, and had stopped other big developments in the past, including blocking a “Global Gateway” port on Daniel Island years ago.

State Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Bonneau), who chairs the Transportation Committee in the S.C. Legislature, said that the project may not be politically possible due to the apparent funding sources.

Grooms believed that in order to fully fund the project, seven local governments would have to give up the lion’s share of their federal and state roads funding “for this one project … for the next 20 years!”

Grooms also said that his Republican colleague in the state Senate, Hugh Leatherman of Florence, was still against the projects.

Leatherman, who sits on the SIB board and is the president of the Senate as well as the chair of the powerful Finance Committee, wants to repurpose the hundreds of millions of state dollars that had been set aside for the project, according to Grooms.

Sources inside the Statehouse said that Leatherman is still wary of the project due to the multiple stands local governments have taken on the project, including Rawl’s predecessor as chair, Elliot Summey, seemingly playing both sides of the issues in public and private.

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