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Five members of Charleston County Council need to unclog their ears and start listening to more than the bankers, big business lobbyists and Realtors who want to make money by spending billions of our tax dollars for a new slow road across Johns Island.

Thumbs down to council members Joe Boykin, Jenny Honeycutt, Brantley Moody, Teddie Pryor and Herb Sass for voting last week to spend $75 million in local tax money from a 2004 sales tax referendum. It’s little more than another move in a nightmarish shell game being foisted on taxpayers. Thanks to Henry Darby, Larry Kobrovsky and Rob Wehrman for voting no. Council member Kylon Middleton missed the vote due to illness.

As best as we can tell, there are four hurdles the county still has to jump for the long-delayed extension to become reality.

First, the state still has to match the county’s $75 million that’s being squirreled away for engineering (most of the road right-of-way has been acquired). As the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) has committed $420 million to the project, it’s fairly predictable that the state Joint Bond Review Committee and SIB will sign off on the state’s $75 million share to move forward.

Second and third, two regulatory agencies — the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — have to sign off on environmental permits for the roadway. It’s likely the state agency, even though not related to the SIB or state Department of Transportation, will say OK because the state wants to build the road. But the Army Corps might not be as open to political pressure on whether it should move ahead.

Finally, the squishiest hurdle of all — the council’s funding shell game. If it thinks putting up $75 million is hard, think about how hard it is going to come up with a minimum of 15 times that amount to pay for its share of the ballooning $2.2 billion road extension.

The reality is county leaders are wearing their serious faces while praying for manna to drop for heaven. They have no real long-term funding solution, which shows how wasteful last week’s vote really is. Proponents of the road extension may hold out hope that the feds will come to the rescue, but it’s a county project, not a federal one. It’s a dim bet the federal government will pony up hundreds of millions of dollars when mile upon mile of South Carolina’s existing highways still suck and need work.

If Watergate taught anything, it was “follow the money.” Updated for modern times: Let’s make sure the county doesn’t keep stringing everybody along as it seeks in vain to identify megamillions of county tax dollars that would suck the life out of anything else that needed to be done like, say, getting ready for the impacts of climate change or making small road fixes to bring big traffic changes.

Charleston County Council is putting the I-526 extension’s cart before the horse. It’s hoping for pots of gold to materialize that never will. Unless, of course, proponents start playing the lottery.

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