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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The closing of a bridge on Interstate 526 in Charleston has prompted South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to support expanding the highway after having no opinion a few weeks before.

With a broken cable knocking out the westbound I-526 over the Wando River out for a month and hurricane season just a few days away, McMaster’s staff said he recently had a revelation.

He told staffers: “How in the world could we evacuate James, Johns and Wadmalaw islands in time if there’s a bridge down and a hurricane coming straight at Charleston?” his office told The Post and Courier of Charleston .

McMaster will ask the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank to help pay for the $750 million extension of I-526 from U.S. Highway 17 across Johns Island to James Island, governor’s spokesman Brian Symms said.

“I think we’ve seen from this governor that when he supports a project or that something is important to him, he will fight for it,” Symmes said.

Environmentalists and some residents of the islands who don’t want increased traffic and development have been fighting the extension.

Exactly how much the state pays and how much is covered locally isn’t know.

A few weeks ago, McMaster told the state bank he had no opinion on expanding I-526. But that was before one of the eight cables snapped that hold up the I-526 westbound bridge over the Wando River on the other side of Charleston

The closing of the bridge for a month of repairs has caused massive traffic jams because of the limited number of bridges in the area.

The I-526 extension has been debated for more than a decade as Charleston has grown rapidly. About 135,000 people live in West Ashley, Johns Island, James Island, Seabrook Island, Wadmalaw Island and Seabrook Island, which would all be affected by the new highway.

McMaster’s decision to insert himself in the I-526 expansion debate is a failure of leadership when he should instead be pushing to make sure existing bridges are up to date, said Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League

“Rather than address the immediate needs of his constituents and serious safety concerns, the governor calls for new pavement on a completely separate stretch of the highway that he failed to maintain,” Cantral said. “This political project is a dangerous distraction at a time when our communities cannot afford it.”


Information from: The Post and Courier,