I-526 debate coming to head

The wrangling over plans to complete Interstate 526 could come to a head next week when Charleston County Council is expected to make a decision about the way forward after a months-long impasse.

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said Tuesday night that the county is looking into having the state Department of Transportation take over, removing the controversial highway plan from the hands of Charleston County.

The county is currently managing the project, but the council is divided over whether to proceed with a plan that proved unpopular at public hearings and for which there is not enough funding available.

"We're going to weigh our legal options and see what would be involved in having the state take the project over," Pryor said after a county meeting.

Others on the council, including Dickie Schweers, want to declare the Mark Clark Expressway plan dead and buried.

"If we don't want it built, why would we pass it off to SCDOT," he said. "They're in the road-building business."

The council likely will discuss the county's options behind closed doors with county attorney Joe Dawson when the council's Finance Committee meets April 14.

Then, when the public meeting resumes, council members could make motions to vote upon.

There is no requirement that the council receive legal advice out of the public view, but the practice known as an "executive session" is allowed by state law and has been the council's preference in most cases.

The highway plan known as "Alternative G" would extend I-526 from its current terminus at U.S. Highway 17 in West Ashley to Johns Island, where it would be connected in several locations to River Road, and then to James Island, connecting to the James Island connector.

The highway would become a ground-level parkway along Johns Island and on James Island, with reduced speeds, a bike path and connections to other roads.

The $489 million price tag exceeds the promised State Infrastructure Bank funding by at least $69 million.

Some homeowners in the path of the proposed highway extension, from West Ashley to Johns and James islands, have been begging the county to make a decision. They are unable to sell their houses because of the highway plan, and the state won't buy them because that same plan hasn't been approved by the county.

County Council had asked SCDOT to consider more alternatives for I-526, including a concept that would take the highway only to Johns Island, and then widen River Road out toward Kiawah Island. But the state said the county's proposals wouldn't meet the purpose of the project.