News | April 26, 2016

SELC, partner propose shifting jeopardized Mark Clark millions to local transportation projects

Charleston County officials should make a play to keep the $420 million in contested funds for the Mark Clark (Interstate 526) Extension and use the cash for other local transportation projects that would do more to ease traffic jams and improve public safety.

The Coastal Conservation League (CCL) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) proposed that plan in a letter sent this week to Charleston County Council Members. The letter outlines a path to reallocate the Mark Clark funds for much-needed improvements to the existing transportation system, which could include projects like a West Ashley flyover at 17 and Main Road and bus rapid transit along the I-26 corridor. The Mark Clark agreement allows the agencies involved—the county, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB), and South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT)—to fund other projects with the money set aside for the extension, if the agencies agree, said SELC Managing Attorney Chris DeScherer.

The SIB gave Charleston County leaders a March 30 deadline to come up with a concrete financial plan to raise the $300 million needed to cover the Mark Clark extension funding shortfall. Without that, the SIB could move the $420 million earmarked for the extension into projects elsewhere in the state.

Charleston County officials have indicated they do not have the money, and have not developed a specific funding plan. DeScherer said the proposal sent to county leaders today could provide a roadmap to keep that $420 million in the area.

“That’s an extraordinary sum of money that has been tied up for a decade rather than being used to fund critical transportation projects in Charleston,” DeScherer said. “We’re putting forth a plan to keep that money right here in Charleston, and to invest in projects that would make a real difference to drivers and commuters.”

The SIB is set to consider Charleston County’s funding plan at a meeting Thursday. City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg has suggested making the extension a toll road, but has offered no specifics.

“What the county leaders should be tackling is a plan to keep the money in our region and use it for projects that will cost less and be done sooner, while doing more to protect Charleston’s environment,” said Natalie Olson of CCL.

Read Post & Courier coverage of the latest developments here.