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State bank board votes to extend I-526 funding deadline

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Charleston County has three more months to come up with $350 million to move the Interstate 526 extension project forward.

The S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank board voted 7-0 on Wednesday to give the county yet another deadline extension to come up with a plan for the project’s funding shortfall. Board Chairman Vince Graham said the next board meeting will likely be in March.

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg spoke at the board meeting, requesting more time to come up with the funding. The board had planned to vote on how to unwind the $420 million set aside 10 years ago for the I-526 project ­— making the money available for other projects around the state.

The project’s estimated cost has since grown to around $770 million. Escalating costs and ongoing disagreements among stakeholders have stalled the plan to extend the highway eight miles from West Ashley through Johns Island and over to James Island.

Some bank board members have said the project has changed too significantly and the county lacks a viable option to fund it. They have urged the county to find another solution to help alleviate congestion issues on Johns Island and reapply for funds then.

Charleston County has threatened to sue the state bank if funding is not allocated to the project, saying the $420 million has been promised to the county. The county has already invested $117 million for roadwork in preparation for the interstate extension.

If the county does not have a plan to come up with the funding in the next three months, the board will review the project once again and vote on how to unwind the set-aside funds, Graham said.

“We are giving them the benefit of the doubt,” Graham said. “This project has been going on for a long time. ... It is distracting for all concerned.”

The bank board voted in May to bring the project to a dead-end because the county had failed to come up with enough funding.

In an emailed statement, Tecklenburg said, “I’d like to personally thank the members of the Board for doing their part today to bring this critical transportation project back to life. As I explained to the members this afternoon, completing the Mark Clark is absolutely essential to our whole region — for traffic relief, for evacuations and public safety access, for bike and pedestrian infrastructure and more. Now, it’s up to us to do our part, first by formalizing the local matching funds, and then by working with our state and regional partners to finally begin moving the project forward toward construction.”

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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