Charleston County continues push for I-526

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey (center), with Councilmen Herb Sass (left) and Victor Rawl, speaks in support of the completion of I-526 at a press conference Tuesday.

Several Charleston County officials said they will continue to push the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank to complete Interstate 526, even though the bank’s board decided in May to shut down the $725 million project.

County Council Chairman Elliott Summey and Councilmen Vic Rawl and Herb Sass at a press conference Monday said the county wants the bank to honor the three-party contract in place for the project. That $420 million contract is between the county, the bank and the state Department of Transportation, and leaves a funding gap that’s been in dispute.

Summey said the bank board is supposed to fund road projects rather than set policy.

“The Infrastructure Bank has gotten out of its line of traffic,” he said.

The county and the bank held a meeting in June to begin closing out the contract for the controversial highway extension. But the county came to those negotiations trying to preserve options for completing the project.

Among other things, the county has asked for control of all the land purchased for the proposed highway’s path, the authority to press ahead for federal approval of the road project and preservation or outright control of most of the funding.

The bank on May 26 voted to shut down the project because Charleston County hadn’t submitted a solid and binding plan to cover the project’s more than $300 million shortfall. It began a 60-day period of winding down the contract and deciding how the $420 million earmarked for the project should be dispersed.

Rawl said the county wants I-526 completed, but it will listen to other offers the bank might make about how it redistributes the $420 million. However, he said, the bank hasn’t yet made any counter-offers.

Also on Monday, the bank board voted in favor of extending until Sept. 13 the time frame for winding down the contract.

The six bank board members at a conference call meeting in Columbia voted unanimously in favor of the time extension. State Sen. Hugh Leatherman did not attend.

During that meeting, bank board Chairman Vince Graham said the time extension was for continuing to unwind the contract. It was not about giving the county more time to come up with money to cover the project’s shortfall.

But State Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Charleston Republican and member of the bank board, said he thinks it’s possible the bank board could reconsider the matter at its Sept. 13 meeting.

The extension will give the county more time to come up with a plan to cover the more than $300 million project shortfall, Limehouse said, and he doesn’t care how the county comes up with the money.

“That could be the leadership holding a bake sale for all I care,” Limehouse said.

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