Here’s a great idea for everyone stuck in traffic today, especially all you West Ashley pass-through commuters.
Call the State Infrastructure Bank in Columbia and demand the money that board members dedicated a decade ago to finish Interstate 526.
The number is (803) 737-2875.
Please keep in mind that staff will answer, and they aren’t the problem. But they can pass on the message.
On Monday, the SIB board allegedly plans to discuss 526 and Charleston County’s plan to make up the highway’s funding shortfall. Spoiler alert: They are going to say it’s not good enough.
Honestly, even if Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates offered to make-up the difference the SIB would still find a problem. Because there are two things going on here that have nothing to do with need or merit: State officials want our $420 million — and they don’t like Charleston.
It’s as simple as that.
All this is about politics, and powerful lawmakers who have more interest in taking that money and paving cow pastures in rural counties than keeping the state’s economic engine humming.
For all those reasons, it’s time to give ‘em a call.
Games politicos play
The State Infrastructure Bank voted to invest $420 million in 526 by extending it to Johns and James islands a decade ago.
That's always been the plan, and the road was once deemed so important the SIB even ponied up an additional $130 million. But that vanished with Charleston’s political clout.
There is a signed agreement between the county, the Department of Transportation and the SIB to build this road, and the only thing that’s changed is former House Speaker Bobby Harrell and former Senate President Pro Tem Glenn MConnell — aka, Charleston's muscle — are no longer running the show in Columbia.
Ever since then, the good ol' boys at the Statehouse have looked for excuses to rob us of that money. They unilaterally want to “unwind the project.”
Truth is, they’re still sore the state spent millions on the Ravenel Bridge, which means they are apparently oblivious to the financial benefits of the port. Also, they think we’re snooty.
Well, yeah. But this is where all the people are moving. When the needs around the state are so vastly different, spreading road money around is not equity, it's just patronage. They know that, and don't care.
The State Infrastructure Bank was set up to fund transportation projects that local communities could not finance on their own — and that includes big-ticket things like bridges. Don’t hate us for our rivers.
Just ask Chip Limehouse what this is about. He’s not only a member of the SIB board, he wrote the legislation that created it.
He says Charleston County’s new plan for making up the 526 shortfall meets federal standards, and he will vote to accept it. Frankly, Limehouse says, the state has dropped the ball.
“State officials, including me, have landed Boeing and Volvo here without putting the appropriate transportation infrastructure in place,” Limehouse says. “A mistake was made, and it’s eroding our quality of life and may eventually hurt our economy.”
If at first you don't secede
This is not about Johns Island.
Much of the opposition to 526 — which the SIB has exploited masterfully — is about over-development on that island. One word: Zoning.
This is really about traffic flow, and damage to West Ashley. Not to mention James Island, Kiawah and Seabrook. Anybody who doesn't recognize this, or thinks it can be fixed with a flyover at Main Road, doesn't commute the route regularly.
There are tens of thousands of people who will be dumped off 526 at Sam Rittenberg Boulevard today, merge onto Highway 17 and sit for a half hour to travel a couple miles as the crow flies.
Limehouse is absolutely right that the state is to blame. The cost of the highway has gone up directly because of the SIB’s delays, and Charleston County is paying the price.
We shouldn't have to carry that, but 526 has been held to a different standard than any other road project in the state. On Monday, the SIB is expected to move the goal line once again.
That’s intentional, and despicable.
So give the SIB a call, and let state officials know that the largest city in South Carolina — and its ATM — is not happy. We want our money, and our road.
Limehouse suggests a simple, and clever, talking point.
“Either we need to build 526, or we need to build a wall,” he says.
Yeah, mention secession when you call the SIB. South Carolina boys should understand that message.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.