Revised Interstate 526 contract likely will be approved Thursday

  • Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:45 p.m., Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 6:47 p.m.
An aerial view of the proposed path of the Mark Clark Expressway looking from West Ashley toward Johns and James islands. The South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission is expected to vote on a revised project contract for the completion of Interstate 526 from U.S. Highway 17 in West Ashley to James Island. Buy this photo

House Speaker Bobby Harrell on Thursday will push the completion of Interstate 526 across Johns and James islands to the state Department of Transportation Commission.

If you go

What: The South Carolina Department of Transportation Commission meetings

When: Thursday. The Finance Committee meets at 9 a.m., and is immediately followed by a workshop and the full Commission meeting.

Where: S.C. DOT, fifth-floor auditorium, 955 Park St., Columbia

The commission is expected to approve the updated contract, known as an Intergovernmental Agreement, for the $558 million project at its meeting in Columbia. If the revised contract is approved, it would mark the project’s first significant step forward since Charleston County Council voted in favor of building the road in December 2012.

Poll results

We asked readers: Should the S.C. DOT Commission approve the new contract for the completion of Interstate 526? Here’s what they’ve said so far:

Yes 55%

No 37%

I have no strong opinion 8%

588 responses from Sunday to 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“Charleston County and DOT staffers have been working really well together over the last month and a half and it looks like they have come up with an IGA they are comfortable with,” Harrell said.

Harrell, a strong supporter of the road, has stepped in before when the project came to a critical juncture. In the summer of 2012, he encouraged the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank to approve the final $130 to $150 million for the project. Harrell appoints two of the board’s seven members.

Harrell will address the commission during a morning workshop. He said he simply wants to encourage the commission to approve the contract, and to thank the employees who worked hard to move it along. “Let’s get on with it and build the road,” Harrell said.

The workshop agenda also includes presentations from I-526 supporter Bryan Derreberry, chief executive officer for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, who is strongly opposed to the project.

In the original agenda, which was released Monday, only Derreberry and Beach were scheduled to speak. A revised agenda that included a presentation from Harrell was released Wednesday.

Beach said that during his presentation, he plans “to try one more time to make the case that this project is a very low priority for the state, the region and the county, and that it will divert more than a half billion dollars of scarce funds.”

The Charleston region is growing rapidly, with Boeing moving to the area, Clemson University’s recently opened wind turbine testing facility, a port expansion in the works and expected population growth, Beach said. “At no point in the history of this area have we needed more to make intelligent transportation decisions,” he said.

Beach also said he thinks it’s a good thing Harrell will be at the meeting. “Harrell has been the driving force behind this project and everybody knows it,” Beach said. But even though he’s been pulling the strings, he’s kept a somewhat low profile.

Beach also said the contract approval is far from the last step in the approval process. Even if it’s approved, Beach said, “the project will be litigated for years.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.

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