Army Corps releases N. Charleston rail study

The proposed rail depot on the former Navy base would serve the new the State Ports Authority’s future container terminal that’s being built nearby.

A new federal report has found significant impacts would result from running a new rail line north of the former Charleston Naval Base, and now the public will get a chance to speak out.

The Army Corps of Engineers released its draft environmental impact statement Friday on the project — a report that outlines some of the major and minor effects that the proposed Navy Base Intermodal Facility would have.

Friday’s report contains hundreds of pages — its executive summary alone is 40 pages — and officials are just beginning to look at it.

“We need to dissect it,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said Friday. “Until we get a chance to completely go over it, we can’t really comment on it. They’re usually pretty thorough. We are probably going to have to have someone with excessive knowledge in the way they operate, usually some retired person that worked for them, to give us a breakdown and a synopsis of exactly what it does.”

Last year, Palmetto Railways unveiled a new plan for rail access into the northern entrance of a container transfer yard.

The new route was hailed because it would affect fewer residences than an earlier proposed route, and because it would give both CSX and Norfolk Southern access to the container-transfer site and would help traffic flow with an overpass on Spruill Avenue to separate vehicles from trains.

A new at-grade crossing would be built at Meeting Street to connect new track with the CSX right of way that exists between Meeting and King streets, affecting traffic at that location.

The draft report found other impacts — minor and major — to land use and infrastructure, local businesses, cultural resources, visual resources and aesthetics, air quality and residential displacements in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood.

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As for traffic, the report said the project would have relatively minor impacts. Interstates 26 and 526 and U.S. Highway 17 “would mostly not experience any change,” it said. “Within North Charleston, roadway improvements and connectivity changes would cause the operations to improve at some intersections while others would become worse. Overall, slightly more intersections would degrade than improve.”

Jeff McWhorter, president and CEO of Palmetto Railways, has said one of the state’s main goals is to minimize and mitigate the impact of its redevelopment on nearby neighborhoods.

Palmetto Railways officials, politicians and neighborhood groups have spent years debating how best to do that while creating an 118-acre facility where cargo containers coming through the State Ports Authority’s future Navy base terminal named for Sen. Hugh Leatherman will be transferred between trucks and trains.

The terminal and rail yard, which goes by the official name Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, are expected to open by 2020.

Brenda Rindge contributed to this report.