I am pleased to announce a resolution to the rail dispute that has consumed our community for the past several years. The fight was at times bitter; however, the strong will of this community has led the state to a compromise that will ensure equitable treatment of our citizens. We could not have reached this point without you.
Grass roots efforts led to thousands of citizens rallying together in town hall meetings, letters written to Columbia demanding a reasonable solution, and an equal amount of phone calls to public officials expressing concerns. We fought in every forum, from the court of public opinion to courts of law.
We now have a great opportunity to resolve many of the lingering surface transportation issues which have plagued the greater North Charleston region for many, many years. I can assure you that I have been relentless in achieving the best possible outcome for the community.
As with any settlement, compromises were required from both sides. In the settlement, South Carolina Public Railways will establish an intermodal facility on a portion of the property the City gave to Clemson University. The facility will service both Class I railroads and will be operated by South Carolina Public Railways.
We were able to stop approximately half, but not all, of the rail from being placed on land at the former Navy Base. We did have to yield and allow northern rail access. Keep in mind that rail off the base is subject to federal jurisdiction and was never something the City could control. I believe that rail line reduction on the former Navy Base, along with other concessions made by the South Carolina Department of Commerce, will allow for appropriate mitigation for ill effects of increased rail traffic through our community.
First and foremost, a study will be commissioned to find a solution to many of our area’s surface transportation problems and lessen port traffic impacts on our community. Anyone driving along our major thoroughfares has at some point been stuck in gridlock traffic or stopped by a train, unfortunately far too often. This fight has been over rail, but I believe that the city has really objected to the human impact of rail more than to rail itself.
I have fought for a compromise designed to lessen the impact of container movement on our daily lives as much as possible. If containers can exit our community by rail with less impact than exiting by truck, I believe there will be an improvement to our quality of life. The study will identify mitigation (overpasses, quiet zones, routing, and sound barriers), determine exactly how we can climb out of our transportation debacle, and finally, paint a true picture of “rail done right.”
As additional parts of the mitigation, the community will receive $8 million. The City will also receive 104 acres on the former Navy Base for restoration, which includes all of the former officer’s housing area adjacent to our park. Public Railways has also agreed to assume $6.5 million of bonds that were issued for the construction of Riverfront Park.
To avoid future differences of opinion as to whether these promises to the City and its citizens are binding, this settlement will come as a court order, not a Memorandum of Understanding. With the involvement of Governor Nikki Haley, Senator and Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman of Florence, Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt and others, this community has been given every possible assurance that Columbia will not turn its back on our community.
When contemplating this settlement, I challenge you to consider the opportunity we have to improve our community. Also consider the consequences the residents of the City would face absent an agreement. The result would have been disastrous, even if the City won every court battle and stopped the rail yard.
We were faced with two options for handling containers from the Post-Panamax cargo ships that will service the new port facility. One option allowed all containers from the new port to travel through our community by truck, one at a time. I-26 is already failing in terms of its ability to handle current traffic. Forcing the exponential increase of containers onto local roads by truck would cause North Charleston roadways to resemble a Los Angeles-like parking lot for hours each day.
The other option was to allow the State to move forward with constructing an intermodal facility to carry the containers away from our community on rail, hundreds of containers at a time. This plan has obvious appeal, provided that rail routes can be developed in a way that would work around the community instead of rolling over it.
The latter option was chosen. As a result, we are receiving a number of evenhanded concessions for the improvement of our community and we now have a seat at the table to make real, lasting changes to our region’s transportation system.
I hope you, the citizens of North Charleston, can stand with me. It is unfortunate that we have had to adapt from our original vision for the former Navy Base. Unfortunately, times have changed, the economy has changed, and ownership of the majority of the Base has changed. What has not changed is my commitment to North Charleston.
I believe that North Charleston will emerge as a better community, and that all of the citizens of the State of South Carolina will realize that it was this community that made the tough decisions for their economic growth. North Charleston is and will always be a great place to live, work, and play, no matter the obstacles we face.
R. Keith Summey
1 – Rail Settlement Agreement NOT SIGNED
2 – Rail Settlement - Press Release from the SC Department of Commerce
3 – Rail Settlement - open letter from Mayor Summey
4 – Rail Settlement - Press Briefing
5 – Rail Settlement - map with key