Jenny Costa Honeycutt's primary victory Tuesday night was a win for Charleston County residents eager to see the expansion of Interstate 526.
Honeycutt, a Republican, will face Green Party candidate Joel Milliken in the Nov. 6 general election to represent County Council's District 9, which includes Folly Beach, Kiawah Island and parts of James Island. She ran her campaign on a pledge to finish the long-debated interstate link between Citadel Mall and James Island.
Honeycutt won support from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Trident Realtors Association and bested two-term incumbent Joe Qualey, who has opposed the project at times. No Democrat filed for the seat.
While this was her first bid for public office, politics run deep in Honeycutt's family. Her mother, Cindy Costa, is a longtime Republican National Committeewoman.
"I didn't do this because of my mom," she said, "(but) there is an inspiration there she has set for me and an example."
Barring any unusual twist, Honeycutt will take office in January and become one more vote on the council supporting the controversial project. Another 526 supporter, Joe Boykin, won the GOP primary for the District 8 seat covering Hollywood, Ravenel, and most of Johns Island. Boykin faces another supporter in the general election: incumbent Democrat Anna Johnson.
Supporters say the 526 extension is crucial to easing traffic congestion on and off of Johns Island. Opponents say it would hasten development around its path, harm the environment and ranks low on the state's list of priority road projects.
But the ball isn't in the county's court: The state's Transportation Infrastructure Bank is expected to meet June 26 to consider a funding proposal from the county as it makes a final decision on the project.
The bank, county and S.C. Department of Transportation entered into a three-way agreement years ago, but the infrastructure bank voted once to unroll it in 2016 and may do so again in its upcoming June meeting. A total $538 million in funding has previously been pledged by the bank.
Charleston County Council Chair Vic Rawl said that if the bank, the county and DOT cannot resolve their differences, "the county is obligated to take whatever action they have available to protect the taxpayers of Charleston County."
Honeycutt said she was confident that County Council would vote to sue the bank if it backs out. She said that this would be likely even if the decision comes to council before new members are seated next year.
"I'm very confident that the referendum on this issue by the voters yesterday will speak to council members," she said.
But Councilman Dickie Schweers said he is wary of squabbling with a group that the county has to go to for funding on several projects. Schweers also won a Republican primary on Tuesday but his constituents, who mostly live east of the Cooper River, have little interest in the extension. About a quarter of his constituents live in downtown Charleston and worry about more connectivity from 526.
“I think it would make their life more challenging," Schweers said. "It would bring a straight route for them to see more traffic downtown."
The county asked the S.C. Supreme Court to weigh in on its agreement with the bank and DOT once before, after the bank's 2016 vote to unwind it, but the court declined to take the case.
Gov. Henry McMaster offered his own opinion of the project last month, urging the infrastructure bank to move forward.
"I really have to give Gov. McMaster credit," Honeycutt said.
McMaster's support was called a political ploy by some, but it came just two weeks after an I-526 bridge cable failure over the Wando River snarled traffic throughout the Charleston area. The governor's office has also said he was motivated by concerns over the ability to evacuate Johns, James and the Wadmalaw islands in the event of a serious storm.