Plans move ahead for road to link new port, I-26

A rendering shows the first phase of a new container port being built on the former Navy base. It will be linked to Interstate 26 by a new access road.

Plans for a road that would connect Interstate 26 with a new container port in North Charleston are moving forward, with the state Department of Transportation accepting applications from companies interested in conducting design and construction work.

The S.C. Department of Transportation said it will accept “statements of qualifications” from contractors until noon June 25. The statements include information about a firm’s history of working on similar projects, its work quality and its key personnel.

It is the first step in a procurement process that will end with bidding on the port-access road project next spring.

The roadwork is expected to cost about $250 million, with about $182.5 million already in place through DOT, state and federal funds. The State Ports Authority will pay the remaining costs.

DOT expects to complete the road in early 2019, in time for the first phase of the new shipping terminal to open later that year on the south end of the former Navy base.

“That access road has to be working before the terminal can begin operating,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SPA. “They (DOT) are working on right-of-way acquisition and design. I have every confidence that they are on track and able to do that.”

The 1.2-mile road is designed to prevent container trucks that enter and exit the proposed port from using local streets. The majority of it will be elevated to minimize its impact on the environment and existing infrastructure, such as Shipyard Creek and the CSX railyard.

The road would require a new interchange on I-26 near the existing Spruill Avenue and Meeting Street interchanges. The Spruill interchange would be closed and the Meeting interchange redesigned.

The planned container terminal on the old Navy base will cost about $700 million, and its first phase is scheduled for completion in 2019. That is about the same time a separate $509 million project to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet from 45 feet is supposed to be finished.

Permitting already is in place for the new terminal, and the SPA’s board of directors last month agreed to spend more than $1 million to install drains in fill material placed at the site. The drains will help the fill material consolidate more quickly and prepare the site for more fill material that will be added this fall to build up the terminal property along the Cooper River.

The board also approved a $976,338 contract amendment for the Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering firm to update the terminal’s master plan.

The port is investing aggressively so it can accommodate the bigger cargo ships that will be able to navigate the Panama Canal once an expansion of the waterway is completed next year.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_