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.

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Photo © Bill Lea

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

A lawsuit challenging Charleston County’s bait-and-switch funding plan for an extension of Interstate 526 is being appealed to South Carolina’s Court of Appeals.

At issue is the opaque way Charleston County leaders conducted a referendum to raise money for the proposed extension, called the Mark Clark Expressway. At first, Charleston County made it clear the unneeded, expensive and controversial road project was not to be funded through the referendum. But after voters narrowly approved the referendum, the county changed course, a classic bait-and-switch.

The Coastal Conservation League has been a driving force behind the legal challenge to Charleston County’s bait-and-switch efforts.

“The residents of Charleston County deserve a government that is transparent and hones, one that follows through on its promises and that the citizens can trust,” said Coastal Conservation League Executive Director Laura Cantral. “We will continue to fight to ensure that Charleston County is that kind of government.”

In an editorial proposing a halt to the decades-old Mark Clark plans, the Charleston Post and Courier explained it this way:

“It’s not just that we disagree with the decision to commit so much local money; we also disagree with the deceptive manner in which the commitment was made. To revive 526, County Council had to pledge a huge chunk of its transportation sales dollars – even though the controversial proposed road was explicitly left off a list of projects voters were told would be built with the half-cent sales 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. 

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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