Charleston Mayor Joe Riley climbed down into the concrete drainage box sunk into the ground next to Crosstown Expressway, a tangible part of a new $11.3 million drainage, road and sidewalk project.

The work won't solve this busy highway's severe flooding problems, but it is being trumpeted as an early -- and necessary -- step toward a fix.

"We're very proud this project is underway," he said.

The flooding problems won't end until the city finds a way to tap tens of millions of federal and state dollars to rebuild the drainage system that serves the 500-acre basin between the hospital district, The Citadel and the Ashley River bridges.

But for a mayor stinging from recent Crosstown criticism, Riley was happy to point to some progress.

The western portion of Bogard

Street has been shut down as crews install new drainage pipe. Riley pointed to buried utility lines and to the high water table in the area, all factors that can complicate construction. "It's very complex, very important work," Riley said.

At some point, a lane or two on the Crosstown itself could be shut down at night as work progresses.

Between December and May, one lane of the Crosstown will be closed around the clock in each direction as crews widen the median to four feet.

The contract calls for the work to finish by November 2012. At that point, the new drainage lines should offer some improvement, but heavy rains -- particularly those that arrive at high tides -- will continue to flood the highway until the final phases are finished.

The work also includes new sidewalks, road resurfacing, an expanded median, landscaping and new traffic cameras to monitor Crosstown traffic and adjust traffic signals as needed.

Last month, Riley asked the state to commit $15 million toward similar work -- drainage lines, sidewalk and curbs -- between where Spring Street merges with the Crosstown and the Ashley River bridges.

Charleston Public Services Director Laura Cabiness said Friday that the state might be able to fund that work through a joint state-federal match program.

If that $15 million is found, the city still would need about $119 million more to drill deep drainage tunnels and shafts that would tie into a new pumphouse to be built on the Ashley River, between the two U.S. Highway 17 bridges.

Cost: $11.3 million

Contractor: O.L. Thompson Construction Co.

Scheduled completion date: November 2012

What's next: The city would like to begin similar work along Spring and Cannon streets late next year, then move into the larger underground drainage work that will make up the bulk of the project's $146 million total price tag.

Current work includes:

--5,550 feet of new drainage pipe

--175 supporting concrete structures

--0.6 miles of resurfacing the Crosstown

--2,500 feet of new concrete medians

--9,300 feet of new curbs

--4,220 square yards of new sidewalk that is handicapped accessible


--New traffic cameras and devices to monitor Crosstown traffic and adjust stoplights as needed.