Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Rail Plan Public Comments - Thursday, August 5

North Charleston City Council convened a Special Committee of the Whole Meeting on Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm in City Council Chambers.  Public comments were heard regarding an ordinance authorizing the Mayor to execute a Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement between the City of North Charleston, CSX Transportation, and Shipyard Creek Associates, LLC.

North Charleston's rail plan
North Charleston's rail plan Maps
Mayor Summey's commentary - "Setting the record straight"
Concerns about northern rail access through North Charleston

Post and Courier - Summey pushes rail plan
WCBD New 2 - Majority supports alternative plan for rail lines in North Charleston
WCIV News 4 - Full Steam Ahead for North Charleston Rail Plan

Monday, August 2, 2010

Concerns about northern rail access through North Charleston

The South Carolina Public Railway (SCPR) plan, which is almost a carbon copy of Norfolk Southern's rail plan, of allowing northern rail access has enormous hurdles and a number of obstacles to overcome. Realistically, the plan faces numerous condemnations, lawsuits, foreclosure proceedings, destruction of historic districts and buildings, community outrage and mitigation, and increased traffic congestion.

As you can see, the SCPR plan would severely handicap the potential of the wind turbine cluster that Clemson is creating, as well as eliminate retail, office and residential options on the former Navy Base.

There are a number of new and recently re-established developments in North Charleston. Park Circle is located directly north of the former Navy Base, which is immediately north of Clemson. Horizon Village is located to the west of the former Navy Base.

The Navy Yard at Noisette has not developed as quickly as many wanted or expected, but its vision has launched a renaissance over recent years. Residents have invested considerable amounts of money into their homes and businesses because North Charleston’s vision.

In the early 1990’s, just after the Navy Base closed, North Charleston was passing ordinances to prohibit people from parking eighteen wheelers in their yards and wreckers in their driveways. Today, Park Circle is a thriving, diverse neighborhood. Horizon Village is an enormously successful mixed-income project of for-rent and for-sale product with pricing both at and below-market.

The SCPR plan would kill North Charleston's vision, replacing it with rail yards and warehouses. It would also cut off the residents of North Charleston from the Riverfront, substantially diminishing the overall quality of life, and possibly diminish the value of their homes and businesses.

There are many property owners other than the Noisette Company that make up the Noisette Project, many of which would have to be condemned for the SCPR plan to happen. Of the 300 acres that make up the Navy Yard at Noisette, less than 200 acres are owned by the Noisette Company. It is estimated that it would cost the state hundreds of millions to acquire the land, terminate leases, demolish buildings and remediate the land.

These are examples of the historic properties that exist today on the former Navy Base that would be negatively impacted or demolished by the SCPR plan. When the Navy conveyed the land to the Redevelopment Authority, a number of protections were put in place to protect these historic sites, structures, and districts.

Highlighted in green are the three historic districts, two of which are registered with the National Historic Trust. The third district now qualifies to be registered.

Highlighted in red are the 40 historic buildings that would have to be demolished or negatively impacted by the SCPR plan.

You can see what the SCPR plan does to these buildings and the districts. One could say that the warehouses could be dropped from the plan, but an intermodal yard with several sets of rail tracks going out the north would compel most of the land to have an industrial use.

The location of a rail yard adjacent to these existing and developing neighborhoods would be catastrophic.

It is not just neighborhoods and history. For nearly 100 years, the citizens of North Charleston had no public access to the Cooper River. The SCPR plan would cut off the Riverfront Park and Navy Base Memorial from the community. To the residents of North Charleston, their Riverfront Park has become a center for concerts and events. Why should they be asked to give up what they have fought so hard to create?

There are a number of existing lawsuits and others that would most likely arise if the SCPR plan is pursued.

Also, it violates the MOU between the SC State Ports Authority and the City of North Charleston prohibiting rail from leaving Veteran’s or the Navy Terminal out the north.

SCPR contends they are different because they are not the Ports Authority. However, they are both divisions of state government. Taking rail out the north would clearly violate the intent of the MOU and reopen the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Reopening the EIS would create costly delays.

The SCPR Plan identified three sites: Noisette, Clemson, and Macalloy, and stated that Macalloy was the only location capable of providing functional on-dock rail. Unfortunately, SCPR pursued the other two sites at Clemson and Noisette, bypassing the Macalloy site and totally missing the Laurel Island site.

The SCPR plan does not solve the one critical problem, which is the costly dray on public streets and roads. The Navy Terminal containers will have to traverse public roads in order to get to the Clemson site. South Carolina achieves no competitive advantage with their plan.

All trucks would still need to go on public roads to get into a Clemson intermodal yard. This diagram shows the patterns that the trucks would take as they go from each terminal to the Clemson intermodal yard.

It would be easier for trucks from Columbus Street and Wando Terminals to go to the existing yards rather a Clemson yard. This outcome would create another problem because it would split the trains with some portions at a Clemson yard and some at existing yards. The more times a container is handled in the logistical supply train, the more the costs, the less competitive the Port becomes.

The SCPR plan requires an expensive dray from any of the Port’s existing or planned container terminals.

The Port Access Road, as it is currently planned, allows for direct truck access to and from the Macalloy and the Navy Terminal, but not to Clemson or Noisette. The EIS prohibited truck access to the north on the local access road.

SCDOT specifically designed the Port Access Road to prevent truck access to public streets. The only access to Clemson for trucks will be through neighborhoods on City streets.

The domestic cargo would remain at the existing rail yards because there is no room or allocation for it at a Clemson facility. The drays from Wando, North Charleston, and Columbus Street Terminals are faster to the existing facilities than they are to Clemson. Those containers would be drayed to the Ashley and 7 Mile yards. The trains at Clemson would be short trains, which would be pulled to the existing yards where they would be combined with the previously mentioned cargo and larger trains built.

In essence, the SCPR plan solves nothing. It simply adds costs and leaves South Carolina uncompetitive. It simply turns North Charleston’s neighborhoods into a rail roundabout.

To make the SCPR plan feasible, it requires an enormous expenditure of $200M+ for road overpasses alone. The overpasses of Rivers at Durant, Rivers at Harley and North Rhett are required by the MOU.

The overpasses at Attaway, Virginia, Noisette and Cosgrove are required by the SCPR plan. In some instances, even if funds were available, overpasses could not be constructed because the rail line is too close existing elevated roadways to allow for the overpasses to get up and down. Relocating, the rail line would push it further into Park Circle.

In addition to the road overpasses, there would be other large expenses related to rail and road improvements as identified in the SCPR plan.

North Charleston's rail plan
North Charleston's rail plan Maps
Mayor Summey's commentary - "Setting the record straight"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Setting the record straight on the North Charleston rail plan

By R. Keith Summey
Mayor, City of North Charleston

Recently I met with a packed auditorium of North Charleston residents to discuss a proposed rail plan that would boost the port’s competitiveness, pump up our state’s economy, and ensure continued success of neighborhood revitalization that is so critical to our city. On August 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm in City Hall, our city council will hold a public comment session on an agreement between North Charleston, CSX Transportation and a local developer to remove rail lines running through our neighborhoods. In doing so, about 77 acres would be transferred to the city for community redevelopment.

Why do I support this plan? First, it delivers the kind of rail connections to the port’s new terminal that has helped competing ports pull ahead of Charleston. Second, it allows both major carriers – CSX and Norfolk Southern – to compete for business. Third, it would substantially change the way CSX moves goods through our city, allowing us to reconnect communities and enhance our citizens’ quality of life.

Critics of the proposal have raised four concerns:

Dual access

The smoke screen of “dual access” has overshadowed discussion about strategies for restoring the port’s competitiveness. The port’s standing as the No. 2 container port on the East Coast has slipped to No. 4, as ports in Norfolk, Va., and Savannah, Ga., have continued to thrive.

How did Savannah do it? In 2001, the Georgia Ports Authority built a taxpayer-funded intermodal facility exclusively served by Norfolk Southern and waited for the volume to increase enough to make it cost effective to build a second terminal. In 2008, the ports authority built a second intermodal facility dedicated to CSX. How did Savannah fare during the eight years when only one railroad operated a near-dock intermodal facility? Container volumes soared.

Similarly, Norfolk Southern handles more than 95 percent of the intermodal container volume in Virginia, yet the port’s container volume vastly surpasses Charleston’s.

No monopoly

Critics of our plan claim that CSX would have a “monopoly” on moving containers. Yet there is nothing in our plan that prevents Norfolk Southern from continuing to move containers just as they do today.

Today, vessels that call on Charleston have the option to dock at one of five terminals. Containers are then trucked (or “drayed”) to either a CSX or Norfolk Southern intermodal facility. Under our proposal, vessels that call on the new port terminal would have the option to dray containers to the CSX facility – or a short distance to the existing Norfolk Southern facility. Vessels calling on the other terminals would continue to truck containers to either intermodal facility.

Switching fees: A common practice

Our critics also claim that switching fees would make the port noncompetitive. However, switching fees are not unusual, and certainly are not unique to Charleston. They happen every day at every port in the country.

A switching fee is a payment made by one railroad operator to another for crossing its tracks or bringing cargo over its lines. For example, Norfolk Southern is the carrier for the BMWs manufactured in Spartanburg and exported through Union Pier. But the final leg of track leading to Union Pier is owned by CSX. For years, the two carriers have worked out an arrangement satisfactory to both for Norfolk Southern to use CSX’s tracks.

What keeps prices competitive in these situations is that the two railroads do business with each other at several ports along the Eastern Seaboard. If CSX were to charge Norfolk Southern an exorbitant fee at one port, Norfolk Southern could retaliate by charging higher fees somewhere else. This interdependency keeps things competitive.

BMW unaffected

BMW has no part of this debate. That’s because BMWs exit Charleston via the Union Pier terminal in downtown Charleston. This roll-on roll-off (or “Ro-Ro”) cargo is not part of the State Ports Authority’s expansion plans for the new port terminal, which will be dedicated to container cargo.

So why bring BMW into the debate now, when it has no relevance to the discussion? We can only assume, as the Golden Goose of South Carolina’s export industry, that creating the impression we could loose BMW’s business would serve to stifle discussion.

Seat at the table

More discussion is exactly what we need to move this plan forward in a transparent, inclusive manner. Yet Norfolk Southern claims it was not brought to the table, and our deal with CSX was made behind closed doors. In fact, Norfolk Southern’s plan reflects no input from the city or the community. As far as I know, only the Department of Commerce had input into their plan. The people who would have to live with the burdens of the Norfolk Southern plan were left out.

By contrast, CSX officials presented their framework for a rail plan with the community in mind. It was clear from their creative ideas and extensive research that their goals were not only to meet the needs of the port, but also to enhance livability in our city. That is why their plan won my ardent support.

Read the details of the North Charleston rail plan here.