BALOG COLUMN: Transportation bank's offer to fund I-526 was the easy part
So South Carolina has decided it wants to build the rest of Interstate 526.
Turns out that was the easy part.
For those just tuning in, there was already $420 million in state funds approved and set aside for the project, but with all the back and forth between the county and the state, the cost has gone up by $138 million. The S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank board offered to pay the difference on Friday.
This project has been kicked around, killed and revived so many times in the past four decades that it's hard to keep track.
Most recently, the county tried to take control of the project from the state, but now wants to give it back. Buyer's remorse, perhaps.
But the state won't take it back without funding and community support.
So half of that problem is solved.
And now there's a sense of inevitability.
But don't crank up those bulldozers just yet though.
We're sure, maybe
It's amazing that something so seemingly definitive has resulted in so many more unanswered questions, such as what will this road look like?
“My educated guess … is that the SIB board is not interested in Alternative G,” said County Councilman Vic Rawl.
Rawl said a likely scenario is the completion of a new environmental impact statement — not a full-blown study, but a statement — on something besides Alternative G, aka “the parkway.”
“The issue is going to be the best route,” Rawl said.
The parkway was the approved plan, but now it seems to be nearly universally despised, paving the way for a possible change to a full-blown interstate.
Of course, there's been no referendum to gauge what it should look like, much less whether people want it or not.
But if they do another environmental impact statement, the public should get a chance to weigh in (again).
For instance, the statement and resulting public response might be very different if instead of asking about building a road from the current 526 terminus in West Ashley to the James Island connector, it focused on building a road from the existing stub to the Stono River Bridge.
“The question asked very often controls the answer given,” Rawl said.
This three-way deal between Charleston County, the Infrastructure Bank board and the state is a no-win situation.
“We've been in limbo a long time but we're still there,” Rawl said.
So what's needed now is for the state Transportation Department to take over the project.
Rawl said that's crucial to get the county off the hook for an initial $11.5 million, as well as potentially (wait for it) the $138 million approved Friday
One thing that could help the process is for the state to hire an independent contractor, Rawl said.
“After all the shenanigans, I would find somebody who's not on the highway department right now as an independent contractor to oversee the project,” he said.
So perhaps everybody should follow State Rep. Chip Limehouse's recommendation, and take a deep breath.
It's only taken 40 years to get this far, so what's the big deal about a few more delays?
Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at mbalog@postand courier.com or 937-5565.