A pair of interchanges on Interstate 26 will close beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday as the state Department of Transportation prepares to build a road connecting the highway to a new shipping terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston.
Ramps connecting I-26 with North Meeting Street (exit 217) and Spruill Avenue (exit 218) will be demolished this month, with construction of the new road scheduled to begin in early 2017. Traffic will be re-routed to local streets around the construction, which is expected to take several years.
While more than 90,000 vehicles drive along that part of I-26 daily, according to DOT figures, the ramp closings will impact far fewer numbers. DOT statistics show an average of 7,600 vehicles use the North Meeting Street ramps each day while 5,400 vehicles travel on the Spruill Street ramps.
While the Spruill interchange will close permanently, the North Meeting Street ramps will be redesigned and will reopen in 2019 in their same location.
The port access road will directly link I-26 with the State Ports Authority's new container terminal, named after state Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman, a Republican from Florence. The road will allow trucks to access the facility without using local streets. The construction should be finished just as the new port terminal is set to open in late 2019.
Much 1.2-mile, four-lane road - two lanes in each direction - will be elevated to minimize impacts to the environment and existing infrastructure, such as Shipyard Creek and the CSX railyard.
The connector's cost could come in as high as $320 million, according to DOT spokeswoman Julie Hussey. There is about $220 million already available through state and federal funds. The SPA will pay the difference between those available funds and the final price tag.
"It is recognized additional costs will occur, such as those which come from overseeing and managing the design-build contract and meeting its goals, but at this time it is hard to give an accurate estimate," Hussey said.
Texas-based Fluor Corp. is forming a joint venture with Fluor-Lane South Carolina and the Lane Construction Corp. to build the connector road. Those contractors will be hiring experienced laborers as the project ramps up, and a job fair is scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at St. Matthew Baptist Church, 2005 Reynolds Ave. in North Charleston.
The permitting, design, and construction of the road is being managed by DOT through an intergovernmental agreement between the highway department and the SPA.
The port access road, called "an important step in the development of the Leatherman Terminal" by SPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand, is among roughly $2 billion in planned improvements to the maritime agency's facilities that are designed to better accommodate large container ships visiting the Port of Charleston via an expanded Panama Canal.
At about $750 million, the Leatherman Terminal is the most expensive project under construction. It is scheduled to open at about the same time as a $509 million dredging project that will give Charleston the deepest port on the East Coast.
Palmetto Railways, a division of the S.C. Commerce Department, is building a $130 million transfer yard near the new terminal where cargo will be loaded onto and off of trains. The rail yard also is scheduled to open by the end of the decade.