Transportation project on track

The Amtrak station in North Charleston needs a major renovation and repairs.

After an initial meeting, talks will continue between CARTA and federal transportation officials on the best location for the long-planned rail and bus passenger terminal in North Charleston.

Both sides reported productive discussion of the issues facing the Intermodal Transportation Center.

“We are all singing from the same sheet of music,” said Elliott Summey, chairman of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority.

To date, the federal government has spent $9 million on the project.

“Our goal is to develop a solution that will benefit Charleston’s transit riders by providing a needed intermodal center,” making sure taxpayers get their money’s worth, said Brian Farber, Federal Transportation Administration associate administrator for communications and congressional affairs.

The planned three-story intermodal center will be the new home for CARTA, Amtrak, Greyhound and Southeastern Stages. Local leaders have bemoaned the first-impression of the area created by the condition of the Amtrak station on Gaynor Avenue and the Dorchester Road bus station.

CARTA broke ground on the Intermodal Transportation Center in 2007 on 36 acres at West Montague Avenue that has been extensively landscaped.

Old mobile homes, vacant buildings and acres of shipping containers were moved and replaced with new palmetto trees, a towering spray fountain, new infrastructure and a large parking area.

But the project still remains idle because of concerns about whether putting the Amtrak stop at the West Montague location would block rail traffic at CSX’s nearby Bennett Yard.

In search of a solution, CARTA proposed to the FTA that the West Montague site be sold and the proceeds used to buy the Amtrak station. At first, the agency regional official in Atlanta said OK, but its headquarters in Washington raised objections, Summey said.

The West Montague property was purchased for $6.8 million. It is now appraised at $4.8 million because of the effects of the recession, he said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who is a CARTA board member, requested the meeting in Washington, which he also attended. The local officials met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA officials.

“We are very pleased with the progress made during this meeting and will continue to work with FTA and others to keep this project moving forward,” Riley said.

Summey said the meeting was productive because the FTA agreed to assist CARTA in finding a solution to current issues facing the transportation hub.

“I’m confident of a resolution in the near future,” he said.

That could include locating the intermodal center at the current West Montague site instead of at the Amtrak station, he said.

“We’re not leaving anything off the table,” Summey said.