The South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) on Tuesday updated the estimated cost of a long-awaited project that would extend the Mark Clark Expressway from West Ashley across Johns Island to James Island, bringing the new total estimate to a whopping $2.35 billion. 

The state’s share of the cost is still capped at $420 million. Before, Charleston County would have been on the hook for about $305 million of the project’s previous estimate of $725 million. Now, the county would be expected to pay more than $1.9 billion. But the founder of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League Dana Beach said it’s the old number that he’s more interested in. 

Beach has retired as director of the SCCCL, but he’s been fighting the Interstate 526 extension for well over a decade. “It is completely indisputable that the DOT consistently misrepresented the early cost of the project,” he said. “It never could have been as low as the DOT alleged it was, and we knew that. It was a politically motivated estimate at initially about $420 million. Then that $725 lowball was just as ridiculous an estimate.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg in a statement Tuesday afternoon said he was still in support of the project, despite the soaring cost. An emergency resolution will be brought before City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting that would endorse efforts by the County Council to move forward with the project. 

“No question, the cost estimates for major infrastructure projects in South Carolina are exploding, and 526 is no exception,” Tecklenburg said in a statement. “But that doesn’t change the fact that our West Ashley and Island residents need and deserve the traffic relief and public safety improvements this project will bring.”

But Beach said it won’t be that simple, and that raising that much money for the project will be nearly impossible.

“If you remember a while back, when they first had the increase to $725 million, Tecklenberg proposed holding bake sales to offset the cost. Well, they’re going to have to have a lot of bake sales to make up for this one,” Beach said, recalling a joke told by the mayor to punctuate the city’s dedication to the project.

If completed, the interstate would run from Mount Pleasant across Daniel Island, North Charleston and West Ashley before turning into a parkway across Johns Island to link up with the James Island Connector. The project was planned to begin construction in 2028, with another two or three years of litigation beforehand.

Beach said while the project would no doubt offer some respite for commuters, the project is far too expensive for how little it actually addresses. 

“We have gotten plenty of engineering that illustrates there are vastly less expensive and more effective alternatives to deal with the congestion of West Ashley and Johns Island with none of the negative repercussions and secondary impacts this project would have created,” he said.

This is a developing story, follow Charleston City Paper for updates.