Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and CARTA Chairman Elliott Summey will go to Washington Monday to try to sort out the problems with the proposal for the area’s long-planned area bus, train and taxi terminal.
At issue is a CARTA plan to build its Intermodal Transportation Center at the Amtrak station in North Charleston instead of on 36 acres along West Montague Avenue, a site where passenger rail service has become a problem that would cost a prohibitive $25 million to fix.
To switch locations for the project, CARTA wants to sell the West Montague property and use the proceeds to buy the Amtrak station. That requires federal approval, because the U.S. government has invested $9 million in the project.
Riley said he requested the meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“I’m very hopeful because it makes so much sense. We worked out a really good alternative,” Riley said.
The new passenger center location was approved at Federal Transit Administration regional headquarters in Atlanta, but it hit a snag at the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, Riley said.
The transportation hub would put a fancy new face on mass transit in this area. A faded bus station on Dorchester Road serves Greyhound and Southeastern Stages. The Amtrak station reminds Summey of a scene out of Bosnia, he said.
“We deserve to have a world-class intermodal facility. I’ll keep knocking on however many doors it takes,” Summey said.
The new transportation center would be a three-story building designed to recall the nation’s grand train stations, particularly Union Station, a former Charleston landmark on Morrison Drive that burned decades ago.
CARTA planned to use $4.7 million from the sale of the West Montague property toward the purchase of the Amtrak station. But now the FTA has said it does not know how much of that money CARTA can keep, Summey said.
The U.S. DOT issued a statement that confirmed the Monday meeting of Riley, LaHood and other federal and local officials. It is being held to discuss the future of the Intermodal Center and the transportation challenges and opportunities in the Charleston region, the agency said.
In 2010, the DOT awarded a $6 million grant for the Intermodal Center. At that time, officials said the federal funds secured the center’s future.
Summey noted that the Liberty Hill area would benefit from urban renewal and jobs that the new Intermodal Center would create if it is built at the site of the Amtrak station.
The West Montague site has been extensively landscaped, with new palmetto trees, a towering spray fountain, new infrastructure and a large parking area.
Charleston County is interested in the West Montague site for its recycling operations. North Charleston is eyeing the property for coliseum expansion and a new parking deck.