Port Access Road Prepares North Charleston for New Terminal
Multiple Phases and Multiple Partnerships: Port Access Road Requires Tight Collaboration to Overcome Challenging Project Location
The idiom, “one thing leads to another”, is a common phrase can be applied to nearly any aspect of life, including construction. The Port Access Road in South Carolina is an example of a construction project that follows the saying.
In the case of the project in South Carolina, the new The Hugh K Leatherman Sr. Terminal is the construction project kicking off the domino effect. The new port in North Charleston, which is being built by the South Carolina Ports Authority, is the only permitted new terminal on the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts. Truck traffic to the port is expected to be significant. In order to brace for the uptick in truck traffic in the area leading to and from the port, and to mitigate the impact on the surrounding areas and current traffic, the Port Access Road is being built. The project began in March 2016.
A Multi-Phase Project
The South Carolina Port Access Road is being built via the design-build method. The design-build project is being contracted and administered by the South Carolina Department of Transportation(SCDOT) on behalf of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA). There are a number of other entities involved in construction of the Port Access Road including Fluor-Lane (comprised of Fluor Enterprises, Inc., and The Lane Construction Corporation), a fully integrated limited liability corporation. Daniel Burton is a District Construction Engineer with the SCDOT, and is responsible for oversight of the Port Access Project. He says, "This project was done as a design-build based on a few criteria, including timing."
Phase one of the port is expected to open in early 2021. The completely new port will expand Charleston's port operations in and of itself. It's also hoped that it will inspire more traffic to the other ports in Charleston. One of the criteria for the port terminal to be built was to increase traffic infrastructure in the vicinity of the port. The Port Access Road will allow trucks to get to and from the interstate that connects to the port.
Once complete, the Port Access Road will be a direct link between the port and I-26.It will provide two inbound and two outbound lanes for port related traffic. "The Port Access Road will allow trucks to have a direct route to the new port terminal and keep them off local roads," says Burton.
Burton, who has worked for SCDOT for 15 years called the project, "the most challenging in my career."
According to Burton, the project has been made complex because of a “little bit of many things, primarily outside constraints.”Some of those things include building near old industrial sites that could contain hazardous materials. Right of way acquisition has also proved complex due to the type of properties involved. Finally, the Ports Access Road is being built adjacent to several neighborhoods, meaning it could impact daily routes for commuters and living arrangements for residents. The Port Access Road will also cross eight different railroad crossings.
Burton said of the challenge dealing with the railroad crossings, “There's the sheer number of them. Plus, for each crossing, we have to coordinate with the railroads to meet their criteria for crossing and timing.” Because the project is running adjacent to neighborhoods (and is part of a tight corridor), there have been challenges relocating major utilities. Also, utility feeders run through the project, and SCDOT have had to coordinate with the utilities in regards to scheduling. Finally, the right of way has been a challenge because SCDOT has had to acquire the land from commercial and heavy industry. Both the needs of industry, and the needs of SCDOT, must be met.
Funding and Scheduling
The right of way challenges have also impacted the cost of the project. Burton says the contract for the Port Access Road was approximately $220 million. However, that figure does not include all of the right of way acquisitions and utility relocations. Funding for
Delays caused by the right of way and utilities have led to some project delays, which may have cost impacts. “We've awarded time to the contractor due to the challenges related to obtaining right of way and relocating utilities,” says Burton. Despite the delays, Burton still expects the project to meet its deadline. The project is expected to finish in the summer of 2020, a few months before the new terminal is set to open.
Beyond the typical challenges of tight corridors, such as commuter and pedestrian traffic, South Carolina can have extreme weather. "We need to maintain drainage and be ready for afternoon storm events which happen in this area during the summer," says Burton.
Since work began where neighborhoods are adjacent, SCDOT has been striving to be a good neighbor. They are asking for locals to reach out and are keeping people informedabout traffic impacts, lane closures, detours, and general construction news.
With the ports of South Carolina growing in numbers and becoming busier, more traffic will be in an around the area. However, the Port Access Road will keep those trucks moving and off the streets of local roads, leaving residents unaffected.