Benjamin Holmes laughs at the irony when he talks about his memory of a ramp being built that connects Interstate 26 to Spruill Avenue.
It was in the 1960s, and houses had to be torn down to build it, said Holmes, who lives in the Union Heights neighborhood of North Charleston. “Now, they’re tearing down the ramp.”
The S.C. Department of Transportation made a presentation and held a public hearing on a new I-26 interchange Thursday at Military Magnet Academy.
The DOT plans to close the ramps from I-26’s Exit 218, which connect to Spruill Avenue, and build a new interchange that will directly connect to an access road to the new port terminal on the former Navy base in North Charleston, said program manager David Kinard.
Now, traffic traveling north out of Charleston can exit at Spruill Avenue, but vehicles traveling south into Charleston cannot, Kinard said. The new interchange will be accessible from both directions.
The new interchange is part of a larger, $282 million project that includes the access road, Kinard said. The General Assembly approved $172 million for the project, $10 million came from a federal earmark, and the S.C. Ports Authority will cover the balance.
The project already has been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, he said. But the DOT needs to complete a process required by the Federal Highway Administration before it can make a connection to the interstate. The public hearing is part of that process, Kinard said.
Herb Fraser-Rahim, environmental coordinator for the nonprofit Lowcountry Alliance for Modern Communities, or LAM-C, said his group worked with the DOT to create a plan for the road and interchange that didn’t affect homes. “They did a credible job,” he said of the DOT’s final plan.
Ryan Johnson, spokesman for North Charleston, said city officials were consulted on the design of the interchange, and they made clear that it was important to minimize the impact of large-vehicle traffic to the port terminal on surrounding neighborhoods.
Kinard said the road will carry trucks from the container terminal to I-26. It will not connect to rail lines.
The project is important for the new port, he said, and must be completed before it opens in 2019.
The DOT plans to begin construction on the interchange and access road in 2015, and the project will take three years to complete, he said.
Union Heights resident Elizabeth Mikell said she finds the project acceptable because it’s not going through the neighborhoods. But she wants the DOT to be sure to tear down the pilings and clean up debris. “I just hope they don’t leave a big ugly spot when they take the ramp down.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.