Charleston County Council members must have felt something akin to relief when they buried a contentious issue at their Jan. 9 meeting: the completion of I-526.
The resolution, though perhaps not quite the right word, of the I-526 issue was predictable.
Late last week, the State Infrastructure Bank indicated that it would ask the state through the S.C. Department of Transportation to take over the completion of the project.
This move would effectively take the initiative away from Charleston County and absolve it of any liability, either in repaying the $11 million that it had already spent on the project, or finding the $50 million or so beyond the Infrastructure Bank funding that would be needed to fund the completion.
It was thought that the move would be an easy decision and that all members would embrace the motion of Councilman J. Elliott Summey to assign the project to the state.
But Councilman Dickie Schweers wanted language amended that related to the alternatives or lack of alternatives available to the county.
There was protracted questioning of County Attorney Joe Dawson about the language and events, which to some seemed arcane and not very material to the final outcome.
The final outcome was a vote 7-2 to assign the project to the state.
Council members Henry Darby and Joseph Qualey voted against the proposal. Darby spoke of the hope of compromise and of achieving some middle ground in moving ahead with the project, while Qualey thought the state should not be involved and that the county should resolve the issue.
Councilman Vic Rawl said he thought that there really was no alternative. The county did not want to repay $11 million it would owe if it didn’t go forward and if the county didn’t go forward, the state in all likelihood would still assume the project.
And if Charleston County did pursue the project, where would it get the funds needed beyond the $420 million promised by the State Infrastructure Bank?
The issue over the completion of I-526 may still live on. But if it dies, it will be at the hands of the state while the hands of the county remain clean.
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.