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County Council, February 2

Council agrees to supplement funding for I -526
But where will the funds come from?
Warwick Jones

It may be premature to say, but the completion of I-526 now seems possible, though hardly certain. Completion has been in limbo as the County, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) and the Department of Transportation faced off over funding the completion. It seems that the SIB will be agreeable to providing the funding it originally promised ($425 million) if the County ponied up the balance of $345 million. Last night, the County agreed to provide the extra funding, but to the chagrin of some Council members, gave no indication as the source of the funds. The ordinance before Council committed the County to providing $150 million directly and $195 million from federal sources through CHATS.

Three Council members – Schweers, Qualey and Sass opposed the ordinance approving the funding. Interestingly, the latter two Council members have favored the completion. Their opposition to the ordinance reflected the commitment to the funding without identifying the source. Council member Schweers speculated that it would be the half cent sales tax. The three Council members spoke of the lack of transparency and the need for public input. Council member Schweers decried the very short notice given over the ordinance with little time for Council to ponder before voting and public input.

Council member Moody had no doubt about his position. He was voting for the ordinance. Building I- 526 had been an issue for 35 years and presumably he thought it was time to move on. He also opined that the commitment to funding did nothing to impact sales tax projects.

Chairman Rawl had nothing to say during discussion of the issue but he made an interesting observation at the conclusion of the meeting. He ran through all the big infrastructure projects in recent years – I-26 to the Peninsula, James Island Expressway, Isle of Palms Connector and others. All of these projects had strong opposition similar to that presently to I-526. But all of these projects went ahead and the opposition dissipated. He didn’t say but it was inferred, these projects brought real benefit. The completion of I-526 would prove to be a similar and beneficial project.

So what is next? There will be two other readings before the Ordinance is passed. The next two Council meetings will be packed as the public expresses it views – and like those meetings in the past, there will be lots of passion and heat from both sides of the issue. But we expect Council will ultimately still approve the project and funding.

It would also be wise if Council were cautious of the SIB. The letter Council received, indicating the bank would proceed with the earlier grant, asked for a guarantee of funding, and the source. Council provided the guarantee but not the source. Will this satisfy the SIB? Council member Qualey was not sure. And there is also the possibility that CHATS will oppose the plan though we expect this to be unlikely.

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