526 Extension path.JPG

The path of the proposed I-526 extension would take the highway through, or along the edges of, several neighborhoods in West Ashley before crossing the Stono River. Lauren Petracca/Staff

One day, Charleston’s greatest soap opera will come to a merciful end.

Just not anytime soon.

The latest chapter in the never-ending saga of Interstate 526 unfolded Monday when the Coastal Conservation League and a few residents filed a lawsuit challenging the county’s legal authority to finish the half-loop around Charleston.

They contend County Council can’t spend sales tax money on the road and can’t obligate future councils to continue the project. It’s impossible, they say.

Sort of  like commuting in West Ashley, which none of them apparently has to do.

This story has gotten so rote and predictable that it’s easy to see what the future holds for Charleston’s most infamous yet-to-be-built road. Here are the highlights to come:

December 2019: A state court finds Charleston County Council made its sales tax referendum just vague enough to allow spending some of the money on 526. The Coastal Conservation League announces plans to appeal, but its lawyers miss the filing deadline while stuck in traffic.

January 2025: The state Joint Bond Review Committee unanimously approves the deal between the State Infrastructure Bank and Charleston County to fund 526 to the tune of $420 million. The vote is taken a half-hour after a retirement party for state Sen. Hugh Leatherman.

February 2027: Work on an environmental impact study for 526 is halted when local conservationists lie in the Stono River marsh, arms locked in a show of solidarity, to block all work related to the road. The demonstration destroys more marsh grass and bird habitats than the road would have.

November 2029: Congressman Elliott Summey says he’s sick of tree-huggers and plans to build 526 by himself. For weeks, local television stations and newspaper photographers watch as the congressman and a group of volunteers make a surprising amount of progress on an Air Harbor flyover.

July 2032: The Coastal Conservation League files its fifth lawsuit against the county, this one claiming 526 will interrupt the hunting and mating habits of alligators, which now outnumber human residents of South Carolina.

A counter-suit is filed on behalf of another group of alligators, which have been pulling carriages for local tour companies since PETA successfully got horses emancipated.

January 2037: Charleston County Council, its membership now dominated by aging millennials, votes to cancel all contracts related to 526. Council members vow to provide bicycles to Johns Island commuters and lobby the state to make Maybank Highway exclusively an eight-lane bike and pedestrian bridge.

The new council also votes to dismantle the James Island connector, since no one wanted that road before it was built, either. And that’s not fair.

January 2039: An entirely new County Council is seated, and reinstates all 526 contracts.

April 2045: Tropical Storm Castro, the third named storm of the newly expanded hurricane season, slams into the South Carolina coast between Seabrook and Edisto islands. The 120,000 people trying to evacuate Johns Island are involuntarily relocated to Beaufort, Bluffton and Savannah by the alarmingly high storm surge.

Support for 526 skyrockets, its construction now opposed only by a small group called Keep Johns Island Soggy.

November 2047: Construction officially begins on 526, now estimated to cost $8 billion. South Carolina Gov. Brantley Moody institutes a pedal tax on bicycle owners to make up the difference.

December 2047: A state court halts construction of 526 after an injunction is filed on behalf of people who say the highway will rob them of a legitimate excuse to telecommute.

March 2053: All lawsuits challenging the construction of 526 abruptly end. This coincidentally coincides with the opening of Charleston’s new cruise ship terminal, built on a spot formerly occupied by the offices of the Coastal Conservation League.

Which is now underwater.

January 2056: In his final State of the Union address, President Tim Scott orders the Army to just go ahead and finish 526, for gosh sakes.

July 2061: More than a century after it was first envisioned, Interstate 526 is completed. A full half of Charleston County’s 3 million residents drive on the road in its first day, prompting local officials to declare plans to widen the highway immediately.

August 2061: Somebody invents the flying car.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

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