I-526 project

Some of South Carolina's most powerful lawmakers found a way forward on letting work continue on extending Interstate 526 across Johns and James islands.

After wrestling with the project for months, the state's Joint Bond Review Committee agreed to authorize $12 million in spending on preliminary work already underway to secure permits.

It also voted to review the project again once there's an updated cost estimate.

The seven-mile-long road was pegged at $725 million in 2015, but that number is expected to change after the permitting process wraps up in about two years.

“This is something that again moves this project forward," state Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, said of Tuesday's vote.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis thanked committee members for their attention to the project.

"It’s been a weighty lift but we are very grateful and excited for all your hard work and diligence in moving this forward," the Charleston Democrat said.

Stavrinakis had moved to approve the project during the committee's last meeting in May but the chairman, state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, adjourned that meeting before calling for a vote.

In 2005, the state planned to pick up the entire cost of the seven-mile extension, then estimated at $420 million. But planning work slowed and eventually stopped as costs rose and political opposition mounted.

Charleston County revived it this year by agreeing to cap the state's total cost at $420 million and to use county money for the rest.

That commitment of county money — likely from the county's half-cent transportation sales tax — triggered a lawsuit filed Monday by the Coastal Conservation League. The suit claims the county violated voters' trust because the controversial Interstate 526 extension was not mentioned in the ordinance calling for a vote on the sales tax.

County Council Chair Elliott Summey has said he's not worried that lawsuit will harm the project.

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Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

Robert Behre works as an editor and reporter. He focuses on the historical landscape, including architecture, archaeology and whatever piques his interest on a particular day.

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