Published Aug. 20, 2012
The S.C. Infrastructure Bank approved funding for the completion of the Mark Clark Expressway on Friday.
The decision allows $138 million for work on the controversial Interstate 526 highway that links many parts of the Lowcountry to Interstate 26. The project would extend I-526 from West Ashley to Johns and James islands and is expected to cost $558 million with $420 million already available for the project.
The debate has been ongoing for decades, most recently spurring Charleston County Council this month to consider a non-binding referendum on the November ballot to ask how residents felt about the project. That measure didn’t pass.
“This vote has been a longtime coming and something much desired by our Lowcountry residents,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who identified himself in a statement as a longtime advocate of finishing I-526. “After such a long fight and after overcoming so many difficult challenges, I felt it was important to the people of the Lowcountry, in recognition of the support they have given, to personally attend this vote in favor of completing 526.”
In a January Transportation Department meeting, several commented about the Mark Clark Expressway project, including Columbia resident Peter Mugglestone.
“Our feeling as residents of Columbia is that the costs to the project are just too high for the benefits it presents,” he said. “This is a project that has no benefit to the state and little benefit to Charleston as it stands.”
At the same meeting, Rod Welch, a James Island resident, urged the commission to vote against the project. Welch said the commission should consider how funds set aside for the project might be better spent on other road projects, including a widening of Interstate 26.
“We have some transportation problems,” he said. “526 will not solve any of those problems.”
On Friday, Harrell said the unanimous vote would lead to solving many of the growing congestion problems in Charleston. Harrell does not sit on the bank board, but has appointees.
“Let’s be clear, this isn’t some new-fangled project or idea. I-526 was always meant to be completed and the people of the Lowcountry have well voiced their intent on this issue — they want this road finished,” Harrell said.
Lauren Ratcliffe contributed to this report.