Major hurdle cleared with $10 million in Federal funding
Business leaders and elected officials gathered recently to hail a $10 million federal earmark that will help fund a new direct access road to the port expansion site on the former Charleston Navy Base.
This is a giant leap forward,” said Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA). “Sen. DeMint, Congressman Brown and our congressional leaders worked hard to secure recognition of the port access road’s national importance.”
A new federal highway spending bill, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), was approved the by the US Congress on July 29. It includes $10 million for various studies related to the new port access road, including permitting, design and engineering work. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.
The $10 million earmark is a major milestone as the port expansion process moves forward. Last month, the US Army Corps of Engineers met with the Charleston legislative delegation’s Ports Authority Ad Hoc Committee and said that an application for the access road was needed soon to keep the port expansion permit on track. The committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Merrill, supports the access road and port expansion and has encouraged the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to file the necessary permit documents.
In a statement, SCDOT executive director Elizabeth S. Mabry said that her agency would file a broad permit application for the port access road in the next few days. The $10 million earmark is dedicated to the port access road and is available immediately.
In January, the SCSPA agreed to fund $1.3 million for a preliminary analysis of road corridor alternatives. One result was broad community support for a southern corridor that travels from the south end of the former Navy Base through the Macalloy site and on to I-26. The preferred alternative corridor, which crosses industrial property and avoids neighborhoods, has received formal support from Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Mayor Summey, the Charleston Area Transportation Study (CHATS), the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the SCSPA.
The Corps of Engineers will release the draft environmental impact statement on the port expansion project this October and plans to hold a public hearing in November. With a permitting decision in hand by August 2006, the SCSPA could open the first phase of the new terminal by the end of 2011.
Comments from elected officials on port access road funding
US Senator Jim DeMint
“This funding will help start the process of constructing a port access road for the new terminal. This project could be one of the most important to our State’s growing economy… this access road for the new terminal will allow our State’s businesses to continue to expand and thrive in new markets all over the world.”
US Senator Lindsey Graham
“The port is vital to our local and state economy. It is essential for us to maintain and upgrade the necessary infrastructure for efficient operation of the port. I am pleased Congress recognizes the important role the port plays in trade and commerce.”
US Rep. Henry Brown:
“We recognize the value of our ports, as well as the need to fulfill obligations to the neighboring communities I see the funding for a new port access road as tangible evidence of the State Ports Authority’s recognition of these needs. The projects that were authorized under the House-Senate highway conference report will provide sorely needed transportation improvements. I am proud to have been a part of the Conference Committee and to see these funds earmarked for our state.”
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey:
“The top community concern about port expansion has been traffic. A new, direct connection between I-26 and the port expansion site addresses these neighborhood concerns. This is real progress.”
SC Rep. Jim Merrill, Chairman of Charleston Delegation Port Ad Hoc Committee: