A solution for completing I-526 must be found
In her Oct. 8 column Megan Desrosiers of the Coastal Conservation League is right on point when she states that we all now know that the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) doesn’t want to build I-526.
Ironically, the mission statement of SCDOT states that SCDOT is charged with the responsibility of the systematic planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the state highway system.
On March 10, 2011, Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge sent a letter to Sen. Glenn McConnell and Speaker Bobby Harrell outlining the items which would need to be accomplished in order for the SCDOT to take on full management of the project.
Copied on that letter were Gov. Nikki Haley, then-SCDOT Commission Chairman Danny Isaac, State Infrastructure Bank Chairman Don Leonard, and Federal Highway Administrator for South Carolina Bob Lee.
Those items were, in a nutshell, fully fund the project; assist the SCDOT in securing municipal agreements, and have the Infrastructure Bank agree to the change in the DOT/county roles.
Each of these items has been met. And yet the SCDOT Commission condescendingly attacks the “courage” of Charleston County in refusing to build the completion of this Interstate Highway of which the SCDOT has already built two-thirds of the legs.
I applaud my fellow council members for having the courage and wherewithal to address roadway needs in Charleston County by virtue of our transportation sales tax program. I think it is obvious who has the courage to make a decision, and not just hide behind random excuses not to fully take on a project that is within the statutory responsibility of the SCDOT.
It is also unfortunate when representatives of the Coastal Conservation League state legal arguments as fact. This disservice can seriously mislead the public into believing there are no consequences for a decision to not pursue the project’s completion.
The South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SIB) has made it crystal clear that it is compelled to protect its bondholders’ interests, and that it takes that fact extremely seriously.
In a letter to me dated April 19, 2011, SIB Corporate Secretary Richard L. Tapp, Jr. states that the county should “presume that — should Charleston County default under the Contract — the SIB would seek prompt reimbursement for the funds expended.”
Contrary to the League’s statements, there are serious enforcement provisions in the Mark Clark contract, including the power of the SIB to intercept funds due to the county from the state, if the county were to refuse a demand by the SIB to repay a default.
It has thus been clear for more than 18 months that the SIB feels Charleston County will be responsible for the reimbursement of the $11.6 million spent to date if we do not find a way to move forward.
Since the League is confident that there will be no consequences for halting the project, I would welcome their pledge to reimburse the citizens of Charleston County the $11.6 million amount. Somehow I doubt that pledge will be forthcoming.
I also take strong issue with the League’s misstatement that the people of Charleston County do not want the project to be completed.
I cannot blithely ignore scientific polling and the many, many calls and emails which I have received from those who clearly want this critical project to be finished.
The area has been calling for this project since the 1970’s, before the existing legs were built. We simply cannot state misleading conclusions to hope that the project will just go away. We all deserve better public discussion than that.
In the wake of the SCDOT Commission’s refusal to take their traditional statutory role in completing this interstate highway, I have tasked our staff with reporting to council within 45 days what our reasonable options are for moving forward.
I look forward to finding the solution so that we can complete this critical piece of our region’s infrastructure.
Teddie E. Pryor, Sr.
Charleston County Council
Charleston County Council
Bridge View Drive