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Tuesday afternoon, the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) board voted to withdraw from the three party contract with the State DOT and Charleston County to complete the Mark Clark Expressway.
By voting to withdraw, the STIB board ignored pleas from Charleston County, and from some of its own members, to come back to the table and negotiate a path forward. By withdrawing, they remove the State’s committed funding for the project.
This profoundly disappointing outcome is a significant setback for a project plagued for nearly a decade by unnecessary setbacks. Particularly vexing is that, less than a month after Governor McMaster expressed his support for the project and called on the STIB to release the funds, two of the four votes cast to withdraw came from the Governor’s own appointees to the board – Chairman John White and Earnest Duncan.
In nearly two hours of discussion, no board member raised any question about the need for the project. No one expressed any doubt that completion of the Mark Clark will be a major upgrade to quality of life in the region, a much needed connection for commuters and a safety enhancement for sea island residents.
The letters sent by dozens of Chamber members helped underscore the economic need and deep community support for the project. Bank board member Chip Limehouse said that in 25 years of public service, he had never seen a stronger statement of support from leaders across the Charleston region.
The project wasn’t questioned on its merits; it was questioned solely on it’s finances. Of course, the cost of this project has been exacerbated by lengthy funding delays by the STIB and Charleston County has already exceeded its financial obligation from the original agreement.
Where do we go from here? The path is not abundantly clear. Governor McMaster last night called for additional negotiations to reach an agreement.
Chamber staff will continue to work with elected and appointed leaders at the State and Charleston County to help chart a path forward, and lend any and all support we can for this major infrastructure priority.