North Charleston struck a solid bargain with the state over long-disputed rail access to the new port terminal. It will benefit the region and the state, as well as the city.
The agreement allows the state to develop rail facilities that will accommodate train shipments to and from the new port. That will diminish the number of trucks on North Charleston’s streets, and on I-26. It will help prevent the interstate from becoming, in the words of Mayor Keith Summey, “a Los Angeles-like parking lot for hours each day.”
In doing so, the primary rail line will be shifted away from the heart of old North Charleston to a route paralleling Spruill Avenue. And the state has promised further mitigation to relieve the ill effects of rail traffic.
That will include limiting stoppages on at-grade rail crossings and reducing the noise from rail operations. Part of the binding agreement is a requirement that the state assist the city on a comprehensive transportation study that will look at managing rail and motor vehicle traffic.
“If containers can exit our community by rail with less impact than exiting by truck, I believe there will be an improvement to our quality of life,” Mayor Summey said in a statement following Tuesday’s announcement. “The study will identify mitigation (overpasses, quiet zones, routing and sound barriers), determine exactly how we can climb out of our transportation debacle and finally, paint a true picture of ‘rail done right.’ ”
Those are sentiments that North Charleston residents can agree with, and such support was reflected in City Council’s 9-1 vote in favor of the agreement.
Despite the shift to rail, the state is still committed to providing road improvements to deal with the higher level of truck traffic that will accompany expanded port operations in North Charleston.
While an acceptable pattern of rail movement through the city is the most important component of the agreement, the city received an impressive range of additional compensation.
Topping that list is ownership of 104 acres of the former Navy Base, including the historic officers’ quarters. Those structures will be rehabilitated, possibly as part of a new upscale neighborhood, Mayor Summey says.
North Charleston also will receive $8 million, and the state will assume payment of $6.5 million in bonds that were used for the development of Riverfront Park.
The construction of the rail yard adjacent the new terminal will require relocation of Clemson University research operations to another nearby site. That will include the historic submarine Hunley, which is being restored by the Clemson Restoration Institute.
The city plans a permanent museum for the Hunley, and Mayor Summey says the financial compensation provided by the state could assist that project.
Rail is essential for the new port and will become of greater importance as port traffic increases with the opening of the upgraded Panama Canal.
As Charleston Harbor is deepened to accommodate new, larger ships, the port expects a regular increase in shipping traffic. Achieving an accord at the outset of the process is essential to protect North Charleston’s quality of life and ongoing residential development.
From the state’s standpoint, the agreement is one that will benefit South Carolina’s economic health as it supports the efficient operation of the new port terminal.