With continued growth on the way at the Port of Charleston, a proposal to move more cargo with fewer trucks is getting the thumbs-up from state and federal legislators even as its implementation could be years down the road.
The State Ports Authority last week took its plan to use barges to haul cargo containers at Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant to state lawmakers, who are asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grant a permit allowing the project to move forward. It was the first of several community meetings the maritime agency plans to hold on the proposal.
“This is an important project for us — infrastructure-wise and for the economy,” said state Rep. Nancy Mace, a Daniel Island Republican and a member of the Charleston County legislative delegation’s roads and bridges committee.
Bigger ships, a growing economy and the expanded Panama Canal are among the factors that have doubled the amount of containers at the port in fewer than 10 years, with a record 2.3 million boxes based on 20-foot increments moving through the terminals in 2018. It was the third consecutive volume record, and the authority expects the numbers to nearly double again in the coming decades.
More cargo means more truck congestion on local roads, especially the Long Point Road and Interstate 526 areas near Wando Welch. The authority says its barge proposal would eliminate about 200,000 truck trips — and their resulting emissions — annually by moving containers from the terminal on a roughly 3-mile trip along the Wando and Cooper rivers to a new terminal being built on the former Navy base in North Charleston.
From there, they would be moved on a private road to a nearby rail yard planned by Palmetto Railways, a division of the state Commerce Department. The boxes would then move by rail to distribution hubs in cities like Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville.