The Buzz

Charleston could get 9 more days to come up with plan to pay for I-526 extension

Charleston County could have nine more days to come up with a plan to pay $300-plus million to extend Interstate 526.

S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board chairman Vince Graham said Monday he plans to ask his full board to grant to extend the deadline to April 8 from its original March 30.

“I can’t just unilaterally make a decision,” Graham said. “The whole board has to make that.”

Charleston County Council chairman Elliot Summey requested the extension so that council could meet on April 7, Graham said.

Efforts to reach Summey on Monday were unsuccessful.

Graham said that he will ask Bank Board members at their next meeting in late April to grant retroactively the extension.

In December, the bank set a series of deadlines for Charleston County to make progress on the project. If those deadlines are not met, the Bank Board could begin discussions about withdrawing the $420 million it has set aside for the decade-old project.

When approved in 2006, the $420 million in state money set aside for the project would have paid the entire cost to extend I-526 across Johns Island. The interstate now ends in West Ashley.

Since then, however, cost estimates for the project, also called Mark Clark Expressway, have increased to up to $773 million. The Bank Board wants Charleston to pay for the difference – up to $353 million.

However, the interstate extension is opposed by some groups, including the Coastal Conservation League, which has used the issue to advocate for abolishing the Bank Board.

“It would be my hope that we give them all the time that they need because that’s a project of statewide significance,” said state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, who sits on the Bank Board.

Limehouse said if Charleston County cannot come up with the added money, it needs to discuss imposing a toll on drivers using the road.

Limehouse was the only Bank Board member to oppose imposing deadlines on Charleston. “Everybody wants the money for their area, obviously,” he said.

But he said Charleston is a major tourism driver for the state. Officials from other parts of the state should support the 526 project, Limehouse said.

Other areas of the state could have their eyes on the state money dedicates for the 526 extension. The Midlands, for example, wants money to fix Malfuction Junction, the area surrounding the intersection of interstates 20 and 26.

That project could cost up to $1.5 billion.

Paying for to extend I-526

$420 million: 2006 cost estimate

$773 million: New cost estimate

$353 million: The difference between the cost estimates, which the state wants Charleston County to pay