Congratulations, Nix 526. Way to go, Coastal Conservation League. You have just about won this thing.
The last leg of I-526 is on its last leg.
Charleston County Council last week offered some ways to cover shortfalls in the $700 million-plus road project, going so far as to utter a word that strikes terror in the hearts of motorists: tolls.
It’s unfortunate, but they had no choice. Charleston County officials are playing a game against an opponent who controls the rules — and changes them on a whim.
The State Infrastructure Bank started backing away from this thing long ago, making increasingly onerous demands: the county had to finance the defense to the legal challenges you threatened to bring, it had to be responsible for all cost overruns. And then they ensured there would be massive cost overruns with the oldest trick in the book.
Delay, delay, delay.
The final straw was when the SIB took away more than $120 million in funding the project was already counting on, declaring that it would only give the $420 million originally set aside for 526.
Now they are threatening to yank that cash later this month. They probably will.
But before you guys pat yourselves on the back, keep this in mind: Your threats drove the cost of 526 sky-high, but didn’t stop it.
You simply provided cover for politicians to steal money promised to Charleston County.
You’ve been played.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter if you were used if the end result is a win, does it?
The goal here was to stop the road by any means necessary.
The arguments against 526 were the stuff of urban planner dreams. Take your pick: more roads mean more cars; we need more secondary roads through neighborhoods (which do a fat lot of good with all the rivers we have around here blocking any meaningful movement); a big highway on Johns Island will destroy its rural character.
Been out there lately? That ship has sailed. Main Road and Maybank Highway are already overcrowded, and there is more housing going up every day.
That’s because 526 or not, there are about 50 people a day moving in here. And most of them won’t putt around on Schwinns. That’s pie-in-the-sky liberal fantasy.
Would 526 exacerbate Johns Island’s problems? Probably. But it didn’t have to. If this lobbying effort had focused on zoning and growth management instead of killing a roads project needed to relieve ridiculous congestion on Savannah Highway and Folly Road, we might have gotten a decent compromise.
That’s how you stop growth: zoning. But it’s much easier to raise money by fighting a couple of big bridges over the marsh, isn’t it? The threat of lawsuits drove up the cost of 526, and kept those donations rolling in, but eventually the road would have been built.
Lucky for all you 526 opponents that state leaders were lusting after that money, and we don’t have enough big guns to hold them off anymore.
Truth is, 526 was doomed when we lost House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell a couple years ago.
They had the power to keep the wolves at bay, to guard that 526 money while everyone down here bickered. Now that they’re gone, we have only state Rep. Chip Limehouse left on the State Infrastructure Bank, and he is but one of seven votes. He’s outnumbered — badly.
You can argue that the money for 526 would have been better spent on improving Interstate 26. Sure, and it might have been more worthy to spend it on homelessness or world hunger.
Both of which are just as likely to happen.
The state has $40 billion-plus in road needs and a state Legislature too chicken to do what it takes to fix them. But they have been scheming to get that 526 money for years, and not to patch potholes.
No, they will spend road dollars earmarked for Charleston to build less-critical pork-barrel roads in parts of South Carolina that are nowhere near as crowded.
They will use those roads to get re-elected and keep hosing one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. They will probably even name these roads after themselves.
But they should probably name a few of them after the anti-526 groups that gave them the political cover to commit this larceny.
Think about that while you are sitting jammed up on Folly Road or Savannah Highway. Most people would gladly pay a dollar a day to avoid that nightmare but, honestly, it’s not even a realistic option at this point.
By the end of the month, the State Infrastructure Bank is probably going to take our bypass money and use it to pave pasture land.
And they probably won’t even thank you for the assist.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.