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Infrastructure Bank board votes down I-526 project

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The State Transportation Infrastructure Bank board voted down the Interstate 526 extension project today. (Photo/file)

The S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank board voted 4-1 against the Interstate 526 expansion project today, killing the decades-long plan to extend 526 from West Ashley across James and Johns islands.

The project — spearheaded by the infrastructure bank, Charleston County and the S.C. Transportation Department — has long been delayed because of growing costs, planning disputes and controversy among those for and against the project.

As traffic increases in the Charleston region, advocates have pushed for the extension as a solution to long commutes on smaller roads. Others have strongly opposed it, saying it would not save a significant amount of time, would hurt their neighborhoods and would change the face of the more rural islands.

The extension would have created a connection between West Ashley and the islands by connecting the current end of 526 at Savannah Highway in West Ashley to the James Island Connector at Folly Road.

After today’s vote, that highway expansion will not be built. Roughly $420 million has been set aside for the project; the project cost is now estimated at $725 million, leaving a shortfall of more than $300 million. Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said the money is no longer set aside for the project; it has gone back into the infrastructure bank.

Limehouse said that he petitioned during the meeting this morning in Columbia for a one-year contract extension for study of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s proposal to create a toll road on the interstate.

“I thought things were going well. We debated for about an hour, took a break, and the votes weren’t there,” Limehouse said. “In my mind, at the end of the day, this is one of the worthiest projects in the state. And if we have to fund it and extend deadlines here and there, that’s what our job is, to help projects go forward.”

The board voted 3-2 against the one-year extension.

Limehouse said there “isn’t much to revive” at this point and he hopes the county will reapply within the next 45 days, putting a possible vote by the end of the year.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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