Mark Clark Extension

SELC and our partners are battling a proposed highway that would plow through wetlands, fragment wildlife habitat, cut through a rural community, and cost taxpayers $490 million.


Photo © Bill Lea

Lacking a funding plan, Charleston-area leaders pull a bait-and-switch

Charleston County is trying to fund an extension of Interstate 526 with an illegal bait-and-switch tactic that circumvented the will of local voters.

SELC and our partners at the Coastal Conservation League are challenging Charleston County’s diversion of money raised through a transportation referendum in 2016. The proposed I-526 extension, also called the Mark Clark Expressway, was once included in a list of potential projects that would be funded if voters approved a sales-tax increase. However, the Mark Clark Expressway was removed from the list before voters went to the polls.

The referendum passed, based in part on voters’ approval of several other needed traffic improvements in the area. 

 “It’s simple. Voters in Charleston County were asked to approve funding for specific projects. I-526 wasn’t one of them,” Coastal Conservation League Executive Director Laura Cantral said. “We’re stepping in to hold elected officials accountable and to protect taxpayers. Charleston County should not be allowed to disenfranchise its own voters.”

Charleston Post and Couriercolumnist Cindi Ross Scoppe put it like this: “Not only was the project not included in the ordinance calling for the referendum, but the council had removed it from an earlier version. Then it repeatedly made the point that I-526 … was not among the projects that would be built using money from the new tax.” 

Cost to taxpayers, environment too high

The project for years has been mired in controversy because the cost has ballooned to more than $700 million. It will also wreck valuable wetlands needed to absorb Charleston’s increased flooding, and it will boost sprawling development in some of the region’s most flood-prone areas.

South Carolina’s State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) had set aside $420 million for the project, but left it to Charleston County to cover a shortfall $300 million. Earlier, the SIB withdrew its portion when Charleston County could not come up with a plan to cover the shortfall. However, the sales-tax revenues are being diverted to help pay for the extension.

Other alternatives urged

SELC and its partners have repeatedly urged the SIB to shift the Mark Clark money to other more urgent transportation needs. SELC is pushing for less expensive fixes and improvements of statewide significance, including a West Ashley flyover, which would do more to relieve congestion at a fraction of the cost.

SELC is continuing to work for ways to use the $420 million set aside for the Mark Clark Extension for higher priority projects. Those projects would ease Charleston’s growing traffic congestion, while saving taxpayers money, and saving some of Charleston’s most valuable wetlands.

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