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Fate of I-526 Extension Project Remains Unsettled

Individuals who turned out for the Dec. 6 Charleston County Council meeting expecting some resolution of the I-526 extension issue went away disappointed.
 
 
 
While it’s clear the council would like resolution, it still remains uncertain what that might be.
 
 
 
The issue was on the agenda seemingly at the prompting of Councilman Joe Qualey.
 
 
 
“We need to let people know as to what is going on, to define options and the likely repercussions,” he said.
 
 
 
There was a lot of discussion, though probably all that was said had been said before.
 
 
 
Councilman Dickie Schweers was the most cynical. He noted that council had voted for the “no build” option and opined that the majority of citizens do not want the extension built.
 
 
 
<!--more-->Columbia had given the county no “wriggle room” over the project. Schweers said he was uncertain as to the liability of the County for the $12 million already spent. Maybe the liability will need to be settled in court.
 
 
 
Council member Anna Johnson asked how one could define the options when Columbia was insistent on building the extension. Qualey lamented that perhaps the only option was to vote the project up or down. Charleston County needed to show that it had done its duty, and to move on.
 
 
 
Ultimately, council voted to ask its staff to study the issue, talk to the State Infrastructure Bank, and to define the options and repercussions of each.
 
 
 
The question is whether there will be any change? The State Infrastructure Bank and the S.C. Department of Transportation insist that the county proceed with the extension, defined now as Alternative G.
 
 
 
The cost is an estimated $490 million, of which $420 million will be provided by the State Infrastructure Bank. The balance would need to be funded by the county.
 
 
 
If the county chooses not to build, it has the issue of the $12 million it has already spent from funds. These will need to be repaid, the state says.
 
 
 
To date, Columbia has shown no inclination to bend regarding financing. It claims that the State Infrastructure Bank funding was for the I-526 project. If the funds are not used for this project, they will be diverted to other projects in the state pipeline.
 
 
 
The funds cannot be simply diverted to projects in the county, of the county’s choosing, according to Columbia.
 
 
 
<em>Warwick Jones is a resident of Charleston and has been involved with a number of area organizations, including the Charleston County Greenbelt Advisory Board and the Preservation Society of Charleston.</em>

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