Residents win another round for Rosemont Neighbors will get sound barrier along I-26 exit ramp

Nancy Button (left), president of the Rosemont Neighborhood Association, greets neighbor Mary McNeil and her son Richard McNeil, who was visiting with his wife Carolyn on Tuesday at the Rosemont home. McNeil, 91, has lived in Rosemont since the 1940s.

Residents of the tiny Rosemont community in the Neck area fought against a plan to build an Interstate 26 ramp that will slice away another piece of their neighborhood, but they lost, said Nancy Button, president of the Rosemont Neighborhood Association.

So they launched two more battles, hoping to prevent the building of a new I-26 interchange and port access road from impacting their community. They have won both of them.

First they pushed the State Ports Authority to mitigate damage by contributing $500,000 for community improvements, a skirmish they won in 2011.

They also pushed the state Department of Transportation to agree to build a sound barrier along the exit ramp that will run through a portion of Rosemont.

Jae Mattox, a project manager for the DOT, said a noise study has been completed, and the level of noise the ramp is expected to generate is high enough to require a sound wall be built.

Mattox said the DOT on Saturday met with neighborhood residents to discuss general plans for the sound wall and other project issues. It will meet with them again to get their input into what kind of wall they want, Mattox said.

"It's coming right through our neighborhood," Button said of the ramp. "We want a wall. We want vegetation. We want all of that."

Charleston City Council Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution giving the DOT approval to move forward with the project.

The project also will run through a portion of North Charleston, Mattox said. City officials also need to give the project a final nod, he said.

Rosemont residents, many of whom are elderly and have been living in their homes for more than 60 years, are tired of the damage road projects have inflicted on their community, Button said. When Interstate 26 was built in the 1960s, it cut through the center of Rosemont. That hurt the close-knit community, which sits in the northern part of the Neck, near the North Charleston border, Button said. "Everybody knew everybody. Everybody still knows everybody."

Mary McNeil, 91, has lived in two different houses on the same piece of property in Rosemont for 68 years. "I'm just praying I can stay here until the Lord calls me home," she said.

She remembers when I-26 was built, and how much that hurt Rosemont. She's relieved that the new ramp won't require any more homes to be taken, she said.

Her son Richard McNeil said it's important for Rosemont to remain a safe neighborhood for the many elderly residents who live there. Most of them couldn't afford to live anywhere else.

Button said the neighborhood in the past has had to deal with chemical and other pollution from nearby industries. "We've been surrounded by chemicals all our lives," she said.

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. Now, traffic traveling north out of Charleston can exit at Spruill Avenue, but vehicles traveling south into Charleston cannot. The new interchange will be accessible from both directions, DOT officials have said.

Mattox said the DOT will begin the process of finding contractors for the project in 2015, and construction likely will begin in 2016. It has to be completed before the new port opens in 2019.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.