News | July 18, 2016

Mark Clark extension, once dead, resurrected with same opposition

Update: Charleston County Council dropped the Mark Clark interstate extension from projects to be included in the Novemeber referendum. Read more on the council's decision from The Post & Courier coverage here.

A list of transportation projects that could be funded with a half-cent sales-tax increase now includes the Mark Clark interstate extension, a costly and controversial venture that state officials defunded last month because it couldn’t be funded.

On Tuesday, the Charleston County Council will decide whether to move forward with an effort to raise $2.1 billion through the sales-tax increase. If the council eventually approves, the end result would be a referendum for county voters in November. The money would be used for road projects and public transportation. Some of the money would preserve green space.

Late last week, a draft proposal of the transportation projects that could be funded through the tax increase included the Mark Clark extension.

“The Mark Clark extension failed because there was no viable funding for it, and because it simply didn’t provide a real value for Charleston,” said Natalie Olson, the land use program director for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. “It was costly to both taxpayers and to the environment, and it would have done little to ease Charleston’s traffic congestion. This surprising back-door move to resurrect the project doesn’t change any of what doomed it in the first place.”

The interstate extension has been debated for more than a decade. The State Infrastructure Bank, or SIB, set aside $420 million for the extension, but that was contingent upon Charleston County coming up with a plan to raise the road’s $300 million shortfall. When county leaders couldn’t solidify a feasible plan, the SIB withdrew its portion.

The draft list of potential projects circulated to county councilmembers said the half-cent tax increase, if approved, would mean $1.4 billion for road projects. But there were no specifics on how much of that money would be used for the Mark Clark extension, estimated to cost at least $725 million.

“The SIB recognized there were other transportation projects more deserving of taxpayer dollars than the Mark Clark,” said SELC managing attorney Chris DeScherer. “The extension is so costly that it could eat up a huge chunk of any money raised by a tax increase, at the expense of other, more vital improvements.”

Reporter Diane Knich of the Charleston Post and Courier reported the county council will vote Tuesday whether to move forward with the proposal for the half-cent sales-tax increase. The county would have until Aug. 15 to finalize the referendum’s language for the November election.

The meeting is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston.