CARTA and the forgiving feds
After spending some $10 million in federal funds to buy property for an intermodal transit center — a site which turned out to be unusable — local transit operators got a break from the Federal Transit Administration.
The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority will have to forgo $3.7 million in future funding to the agency as a result of the foul-up, but were given FTA approval to proceed with plans to build the transit center elsewhere.
Ironically, the preferred site is the old train station that local officials wanted to abandon in favor of the Montague Avenue location, which was belatedly found to be unusable.
That’s because in the planning process, a major conflict between freight and passenger rail traffic was somehow missed. It would have cost $25 million to fix the problem — money that CARTA doesn’t have. Indeed, CARTA would have had great difficulty reimbursing the FTA for the money the federal agency put into the project.
Clearly, the mistake should have been spotted early in the process, but so far, CARTA has yet to provide much of an explanation as to how a project some 15 years in the making took such a wrong turn.
It’s rare that a public agency can make a multi-million mistake and not have to at least offer a comprehensive explanation.
And it’s surprising that CARTA’s current plan to build a new intermodal center at the Amtrak site on Gaynor Avenue has yet to be presented for the consideration of North Charleston City Council.
The old train station is in the city’s Liberty Hill neighborhood. CARTA would expand the site to serve regional buses and mass transit, as well as Amtrak.
Elliott Summey, chairman of the CARTA board, says the new intermodal center will provide impetus for renewal of the area. North Charleston City Council should be interested in what the residents have to say about that assessment.
Indeed, Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor says community involvement is essential. Mr. Pryor also serves on the CARTA board.
“They have to engage the community to see if it’s something the community wants,” Mr. Pryor says.
Mr. Summey credits the efforts of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who met with federal officials to resolve the funding issue.
CARTA might well breathe a sigh of relief over the break it got from the FTA. But accountability shouldn’t end with that comparatively soft landing. There are issues, past and future, that still need to be explained and assessed.
As for the planning debacle, Charleston City Councilman Mike Seekings says, “At some point, someone has to be held accountable for it.” Mr. Seekings also serves on the CARTA board,
The general public supports CARTA through its tax dollars, including a half-cent sales tax, and should have the assurance that such a monumental error couldn’t happen again.
Meanwhile, North Charleston City Council needs to vet the most recent plans to use the area around the train station for expanded transit purposes.
And the residents of Liberty Hill need to have some say-so in the process.