Clearer sailing for the port

The Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to expedite the review of the harbor-deepening plan for Charleston’s port should mean that project will be finished five years sooner — as early as 2020. The decision, announced Wednesday, will put the port on the fast track — as those things go — for accommodating the extra-large container ships that will be traversing the expanded Panama Canal in 2014.

It’s good news for the local economy and for the state. And if it signals a more timely way of taking care of port business by the federal government, it will be good news for the nation.

Indeed, Lt. Col. Edward Chamberlayne. commander of the Corps’ Charleston district, said the expedited schedule is the first step in a national effort to prioritize projects.

“The Charleston Harbor deepening is now a case study, a front-runner, in how to streamline our studies,” Lt. Col. Chamberlayne said.

Presumably this decision recognizes that the deepening project isn’t breaking new ground. As SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome, put it: “The harbor was deepened in 2004, and not a lot has changed.”

The decision follows legislative approval of a $300 million allocation needed to undertake the deepening project as soon as the feasibility study is done and permits are in hand.

And the expedited timetable for the harbor deepening review wasn’t the only port-related advance reported last week.

The SPA’s decision to revive plans for an inland port will encourage greater use of rail for cargo, in and out of the port.

And that will relieve some of the truck traffic serving the port. It is expected to take 25,000 trucks off the road a year at the outset, and eventually up to 50,000 a year.

That should ease the unrelenting pressure to expand I-26, which is the main artery for the SPA.

The inland port in Greer will effectively provide additional container capacity for the port of Charleston, as well as a convenience for Upstate manufacturers.

The inland port is expected to be served by a night train, thereby limiting the effects of the added train traffic along the route. Rail currently serves the Columbus Street and the North Charleston terminals directly.

The positive results of the inland port on reducing truck traffic should be experienced from Charleston to the Upstate.

Those benefits should serve as an additional incentive for North Charleston to resolve its differences with the state over rail service to the new terminal planned for the old Navy Base.

And the Port of Charleston’s recent progress on multiple fronts should serve as an encouraging sign that the local — and the state — economic recovery won’t be jobless.