Citing a major and compelling interest in the completion of I-526, Charleston City Council pas sed a resolution Tuesday evening throwing their full support behind the project.
The decision, which passed without the support of councilmen Mike Seekings and William Dudley Gregory, means the city will join Charleston County in requesting that the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Bank give them until the end of the year to come up with a funding plan for the highway’s completion. Suggested solutions for making up the more than $300 million shortfall include a referendum for a countywide capital projects sales tax and possible tolls. The county was previously given a deadline of March 30 to develop a funding strategy, otherwise the bank could reallocate the $420 million set aside for the extension.
Some residents who appeared before City Council Tuesday voiced concerns that completing I-526 would bring too much development to the James and Johns islands, while others said that the money could be better spent on developing alternative modes of transportation in the region and improving connectivity among existing roads.
Councilman Dean Riegel responded by saying that growth and development have already come to the area and derided state legislators for not doing their part to address the problems facing the Lowcountry. In response to several objections to a proposed toll, Councilman Marvin Wagner argued that commuters can simply bypass it by using the roads we have now. Public safety is chief among his concerns when it comes to not completing I-526, saying that in cases of natural disaster, more major roads are needed to get people off of the islands.
Although councilmen James Lewis Jr. and Peter Shahid both supported the resolution, they called for a greater focus on funding and developing public transportation to ease traffic in the city. In February, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, in partnership with CARTA, TriCounty Link, the S.C. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Transit Administration, announced a recommended plan for a rapid-transit bus line connecting Summerville and downtown Charleston.
The initial construction cost for that project was estimated at $360 million with an expected annual operating cost of $5.8 million. Those pushing for the new system plan to pursue grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration, which will require a partial match of local funds. Mayor John Tecklenburg said a completed I-526 could serve to support the rapid-transit bus line, which planners hope would continue to expand its service area once the main spine of the system is in place.
Tecklenburg was scheduled to speak with the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Bank Thursday until that meeting was postponed. The mayor stated that increasing traffic is a threat to the quality of life of all Charleston residents, adding, “We have not kept up with the infrastructure investment that we need to manage the growing metro area.”