Reduced version of I-526 readied: County Council to get plan taking road to Johns Island
A scaled-down $200 million version of Interstate 526 that ends on Johns Island will be presented today to Charleston County Council.
Council Chairman Teddie Pryor developed the new expressway plan as a way to resolve the county being in default on an $11.6 million loan that the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank decided on Thursday had to be paid back in 60 days.
Last month, a majority of council chose the “no-build” option for the $489 million expressway extension across Johns and James islands. The $11.6 million was spent on environmental studies, engineering and right-of-way acquisition.
Pryor said paying the money back in 60 days could mean layoffs and service cuts, damaged credit or cuts in other local road projects, depending on which funds are tapped.
“That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said Monday.
He wants to take the “no-build” option off the table, which would get the county out of default on its $11.6 million loan. He then wants to sit down with the Infrastructure Bank and the state Department of Transportation to come up with a plan for completing the smaller version of the project: extending I-526 from Savannah Highway to Maybank Highway.
The state’s plan would take the highway to the James Island connector.
“I think it just makes good sense. It’s a win-win situation,” he said.
On April 19, council voted 5-3 to adopt the “no-build” option for I-526. Pryor, Elliott Summey and Vic Rawl were opposed.
Pryor said there is a “silent majority” that supports the expressway from Savannah Highway to the James Island connector that is the last link of an I-526 loop.
Hundreds of people who identified themselves as residents of the islands spoke against the project at hearings last year. Pryor said that was an orchestrated effort by opponents trying to hijack the public review process.
The bank said it has to recoup the $11.6 million in 60 days or risk damage to its bond rating.
Councilwoman Colleen Condon said she did not think council would vote differently on the expressway today, meaning it would stick with the “no-build” option.
“We’re getting tremendous pressure to change that vote, but I don’t see it happening,” she said.
She noted that public sentiment was overwhelmingly against the project in the hearings last fall.
Condon said the bank on Friday told the county that a payment plan was a possibility. After checking with county staff, Pryor said he was unaware of such an offer. A bank spokesman could not be contacted Monday.
“It’s not going to require drastic measures,” she said in reference to paying back the $11.6 million loan.
Meanwhile, a new grassroots effort has sprung up on the Internet that advocates building the $489 million expressway. The developer of www.526completion.org did not respond to a request for an interview.