Monday, February 28, 2011

North Charleston Rail Plan Provides Dual Access

By R. Keith Summey

My colleague David Mack and I share some common ground where the North Charleston rail plan is concerned. I agree that the stakes are extremely high and that community involvement is important.

But his recent column in the Post and Courier and the community meeting he convened at Military Magnet High School included many misstatements of fact that need to be clarified.

Since Mr. Mack represents citizens in the southern portion of the city, it's understandable that he would want less of the burden placed on them. Indeed, our LAMC communities are just as important to North Charleston as any other neighborhood.

That’s why before the partnership agreement with CSX and Shipyard Creek Associates was signed, it underwent extensive public review.  We met with the executive board of LAMC, the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood association, we presented the entire plan in front of hundreds at the Felix C. Davis Community Center, City Council held public hearings, and all information was placed openly online, where it remains today.  The purpose of these meetings was to begin a dialogue that has been ongoing.

Inversely, the South Carolina Public Railways (SCPR) plan was approved behind closed doors, amongst bureaucrats in Columbia with absolutely no public input, and is forcibly being implemented through condemnation with no regard to communities affected.

One important point to keep in mind is we're not just talking trains. The majority of cargo coming from the new port is transported on trucks. If our proposal for an intermodal rail facility utilizing CSX's existing Cooper Yard is selected, trucks would travel through the Macalloy property on the port access road before hitting the interstate. However, if the SCPR plan is allowed to go forward on the condemned Clemson property, trucks would travel through neighborhoods on city streets to get to I-26.

Under the SCPR plan, trains would still run through Union Heights and Accabee; they would not be removed from these neighborhoods. And let us not forget that the SCPR plan calls for the rail yard to be constructed next to senior housing, homes, and apartments in Chicora-Cherokee.

Our plan allows for the LAMC Revitalization Plan to become a reality through providing funds for the redevelopment of the Stromboli corridor, a high priority for LAMC.  In addition, our plan would lead to the abandonment of 3.2 miles of rail line along Spruill Avenue.  Seventeen at-grade crossings would be eliminated, reknitting the community back together.  Despite the claims, the SCPR plan cannot ensure the closing of this rail line, because they do not own it.

Perhaps Mr. Mack's most egregious error was on the topic of dual access. Our plan provides dual access through a unique agreement spelled out by CSX in late January that gives Norfolk Southern access into CSX's rail yard at cost. Consequently, the entire state would realize long-term economic gain. (The Post and Courier reported on this breakthrough amendment to the North Charleston rail plan on Jan. 28.)

Let me repeat: The North Charleston rail plan allows for equal, dual access for both CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Ironically, the SCPR plan requires Norfolk Southern to cross a minimum of two CSX lines, whereas access from the south only requires one.

Another glaring omission in Mr. Mack's assessment of the two plans is that SCPR would own and operate the rail yard.  This is the real competition killer. Having a governmental third-party involved would make the intermodal rail facility less competitive by driving up costs.

Finally, Mr. Mack's assertion that "the city had nothing to show" for our investment in redeveloping the northern half of the old Navy Base is also dead wrong. Today the Navy Base is home to about 85 businesses and nonprofit organizations and nearly 2,500 employees. Horizon Village is a case study in affordable housing.  The City has invested public funds to create Riverfront Park and the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial.  Not to mention the huge private investment of residents and businesses surrounding the former base.

"Development is a complicated process and we all need to understand the consequences. Our children and grandchildren will be directly affected by the decisions made this year," according to Mr. Mack.

I couldn't agree more. But it's vitally important that as the rail debate continues, we ought to argue the facts of the case and not rely on the myths and misinformation meant to divide North Charleston’s residents.

To continue the conversation on the two rail plans, I have formally invited SCPR President & CEO Jeff McWhorter to a community forum, at a date and time of his choosing, so the merits of each plan may be discussed openly in a public setting.  I am confident that Mr. McWhorter will accept this invitation to discuss the plan which he so staunchly defends and will not defer these important talks to the Port Review & Oversight Commission.

R. Keith Summey is mayor of North Charleston.

Learn more about the Rail & Community Redevelopment project, here:

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