Charleston County Council has put an extension of 526 back on the table, arguing it may be the only way to avoid an $11.6 million bill from the state … and lots of dead people.
County Council voted in April to refuse state design plans to extend Interstate 526 from Savannah Highway to the James Island Connector. The move was largely in response to strong resident objections, arguing that it would harm the rural nature of Johns Island while failing to address traffic concerns. Last week, the State Infrastructure Bank, the financing arm for these large transportation projects, told County Council members that Charleston would have to pay back the money already spent for design work and right-of-way acquisition on the 526 project.
On Tuesday, the council voted 5-3 to revive the project and begin negotiations. Council members Colleen Condon, Dickie Schweers, and Joe Qualey opposed the motion.
The large crowd at the meeting included a mix of anti-526 and pro-526 residents — and everyone was wearing a sticker. Some had a black slash cutting through “526,” indicating opposition. Others had various stickers indicating support for the highway. There was a green one with “GO” in big letters, as well as others suggesting the county “finish” or “complete” the controversial highway. Folks wearing the same badge sat together. At one point, two neighbors on opposite sides of the issue passed in the hall, telling each other, “You’re wearing the wrong sticker.”
Threats by pro-526 officials have gone from $11.6 million to rotting corpses. County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, who has been a tireless supporter of the 526 project, has threatened county jobs and library hours could be on the chopping block to pay back the state’s bill. Councilman Vic Rawl told the crowd Tuesday night that the county has to make good on this road or risk angering credit agencies, endangering any future road or park projects.
Without the 526 project, existing roads would become a nightmare, says Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. Not scary enough? He went on to predict gruesome car accidents as traffic backs up. And Riley warned dead bodies will be floating in the waters if the road isn’t built, referring to people who would rather face a hurricane than sit in evacuation traffic. “The decision you make on this highway will determine whether people live or die,” Riley said.