The Obama Administration announced Wednesday that it plans to speed up seven infrastructure projects nationwide, including the Port of Charleston. In a statement, the Administration said the project’s study and necessary reviews will be finished by September 2015.
The list of projects, which is part of the Administration’s We Can’t Wait initiative, targets what it considers the most critical infrastructure projects in the country. The news builds upon last week’s update from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Charleston District that announced a reduced timeline and cost estimate for Charleston’s feasibility study. Under the new Administration program, the study and federal reviews now will be further expedited and will be completed up to another year earlier.
“This announcement represents more good news for our deepening project, and demonstrates that the highest levels of our government understand the critical need to advance this project,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA). “In just two years, we have gone from not being included in the President’s Budget to now being a top priority. We are grateful for the Administration’s commitment.”
We Can’t Wait is the result of a Presidential Executive Order issued in March, which called for a government-wide effort to streamline the permitting and review process for vital infrastructure projects in communities across the nation.
The SCPA, along with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Congressman Jim Clyburn and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, in April sent letters to the Administration and members of the steering committee charged with this initiative, asking that they include Charleston’s Post 45 Project in their priority infrastructure list. The steering committee, comprised of leadership of the U.S. Army as well as the federal departments of Transportation, Commerce and Agriculture, participated in the selection process.
“This is a huge win for Charleston and for all of South Carolina,” Governor Nikki Haley said in a separate statement, “Back in February, I stressed to the President how important deepening Charleston’s Port was and how frustrating the Army Corps’ timetable was, and I’m thrilled to see the Administration has sped up our project.”
Officials say the Charleston Harbor Feasibility Study, which is currently examining the benefits and costs of deepening the harbor down to a possible 50 feet, is expected to be complete within three years.
In February, the Obama Administration included $3.5 million toward the project’s feasibility study as part of the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2013. Last month, the South Carolina Legislature committed $300 million in the state budget to fund the construction of a post-45-foot harbor project for the Port of Charleston. This allocation could cover the entire estimated cost to deepen the harbor to 50 feet or greater, once the project receives authorization from Congress.
With 45 feet of water at mean low tide, Charleston Harbor is currently the deepest port in the region, serving ships drawing up to 48 feet of water on the tides. Ports officials say the harbor needs to be deeper to handle larger ships that will begin arriving on the East Coast once an expanded Panama Canal opens in 2014.