I-526 threatens road vote (copy)

In 2012, then-Mayor Joe Riley pointed out a study of traffic issues relating to I-526 not being completed across James Island, Johns Island and West Ashley. File/Wade Spees/Staff

It isn’t the governor’s fault that Interstate 526 is still a dead-end road — but now it is his problem.

A month ago, Gov. Henry McMaster publicly declared his support for Charleston County’s long-delayed I-526 completion — and directed the State Infrastructure Bank to move forward.

So what did they do? They threw it in reverse.

On Tuesday, a couple of hours before the polls closed in McMaster’s GOP gubernatorial primary runoff, the bank board pulled its support — and $420 million — from the project. The 4-3 vote swung on the governor’s two appointees.

Ouch.

“I don’t think Henry McMaster betrayed the Lowcountry, I think his appointees betrayed him,” said state Sen. Sandy Senn. “But to prove that, he needs to fix this.”

The governor has gotten the same unsubtle message several times in the past two days. State Rep. Lin Bennett, who endorsed McMaster in the runoff, said it’s shameful that his SIB appointees poked him in the eyes, and played us for fools, on Election Day.

“I think the governor ought to fix the problem, and the local delegation will push hard on this,” Bennett said.

Basically, Charleston County lawmakers want the governor to tell his guys that 526 gets finished — or they are.

Either way.

Predetermined outcome

This isn’t Charleston County Council’s fault, either — no matter what the SIB board would have you believe.

The resolution that narrowly passed Tuesday blamed “the repeated failure of Charleston County Council to provide a binding, reliable, enforceable funding plan to complete the project.”

Think they didn’t have that sketched out ahead of time?

Truth is, some members of the Infrastructure Bank have been plotting to take that 526 money ever since former Senate president pro tem Glenn McConnell walked out of the Statehouse.

In the past few years, the SIB has forced Charleston County to jump through ridiculous hoops and clear insurmountable hurdles to get money that was earmarked for 526 a decade ago.

They’ve asked the county to dedicate a funding source to finish the road, which council can’t commit to without an amended contract. And the SIB has ignored the county's suggestions to amend the contract.

The Infrastructure Bank has repeatedly moved the goal line, violating its very purpose. Just ask Chip Limehouse, a board member — and sponsor of the legislation that created the SIB.

On Tuesday, he noted no other South Carolina community has been asked to put up a 50 percent match on a SIB project, pointing out this is after all a state road and reminded them of the “great letter” from the governor.

It did no good, and Charleston lawmakers weren’t surprised.

“For over a decade, we have gone above and beyond anything ever required of any local area in state history to get construction started,” state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis said. “These political games must stop. We need the governor to join with the appointees from the House of Representatives and fix this mess once and for all.”

Road work, or legal bills, ahead

Here’s how this plays out:

Charleston County is giving the governor a couple of days to get his appointees to reconsider, or at least drag them into mediation. Barring that, the county will send the SIB a default letter.

That’s just a technical link in the evidence chain for the lawsuit.

Make no mistake, the county will sue — and it has a good case. Not only is the SIB attempting to break a three-party agreement (the Department of Transportation might have something to say here, too), but Charleston County has already spent $120 million on state roads as part of its match for 526.

Which ought to make everyone in Charleston County furious.

The county may even sue for $1 billion in damages — and slap an injunction on the Infrastructure Bank which, if successful, would shut down all its projects across the state. Or at least ding the state’s credit rating.

Can’t blame the county, because the stakes are high. West Ashley and James Island traffic is a mess, and 526 would ease that pressure. And county officials are spitting mad, more determined than ever to build that road.

The governor may be just as angry. After all, he promised to help with 526 and his own appointees embarrassed him on a fairly important day. Several folks in Columbia claim one of them even ducked his calls before the meeting.

Sen. Senn is absolutely right. McMaster can prove he supports 526, and wasn’t playing politics during the campaign, by firing up his SIB guys. Or firing them. Either way.

Just so long as the road gets built.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.