by Paul Bowers
After abandoning an original site at West Montague Avenue and Dorchester Road, CARTA officials unveiled more detailed plans Monday night to build its North Charleston Regional Intermodal Transportation Facility at the site of an existing Amtrak station near Park Circle.
There is one major sticking point for the new project: With $8.4 million already sunk into the old site on West Montague Avenue, CARTA will have to sell the old site first. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow CARTA to transfer up to $4.7 million from the property sale to the new site, but it is demanding that CARTA eventually pay back the remaining $3.7 million.
The idea behind the intermodal facility project is to connect reigional train and bus lines to local CARTA buses. The $14.5 million facility will include an extended loading area for passenger trains, and Southeastern Stages will relocate its North Charleston bus terminal to the intermodal facility from its current location on Dorchester Road near I-526. The facility will include 208 car parking spaces, a food court, retail space, and an administrative office for CARTA on the second floor.
The new 32,000-square-foot hub will be a scaled-down version of the original facility. CARTA plans to complete the project by October 2016, but it can't even buy the new property until it gets rid of the old one.
"We can't do anything until that site is sold," said Rhett Reidenbach, vice president of Davis & Floyd's North Charleston office, which drew up the designs for both the original and the new sites.
If the sale price of the West Montague site doesn't raise $4.7 million, then, in addition to the $3.7 million owed, CARTA will also be responsible for paying back the difference to the FTA.
Recovering the lost money might be a challenge. According to county records (search for Property ID 4081600036), CARTA bought the property for just over $2 million in 2002, and the most recent appraisal places the property's value at just $742,500. However, a spokesman for CARTA says a new appraisal that takes into account the improvements on the site and its proximity to Boeing will likely be much higher.
CARTA's beleaguered intermodal project goes back at least as far as 1996, when the City of North Charleston started a feasibility study for building a new transportation hub. CARTA secured funds from the Federal Transit Administration and a half-cent county sales tax to start on the project, and after buying the land at the old site, CARTA went ahead and built a parking lot and dug out a retention pond on the site in 2008.
But the project ground to a halt shortly afterward. The West Montague site was situated on a stretch of rails directly next to CSX Transportation's Bennett Yard, and CSX was concerned that commuter rail traffic would interfere with cargo train traffic on the yard (see map above). CSX owned the right of way, so the company demanded that CARTA build its own sidetrack specifically for passenger trains. Building the sidetrack would also require rebuilding nearby overpasses for I-526 and Dorchester Road at a cost of about $25 million, according to CARTA Executive Director Christine Wilkinson. CARTA officially gave up on the West Montague site in 2012.
(Since the time of this interview, CARTA has replaced Wilkinson with interim executive director Jeff Burns. Wilkinson was arrested in downtown Charleston Tuesday night on a charge of public disorderly conduct.)
At the Gaynor Avenue site, the estimated budget for buying the land and building the facility is $14.5 million. Wilkinson says that she doesn't anticipate having to ask for more money from taxpayers. CARTA will still be able to use about $11.3 million worth of the original funds from the FTA, and the remaining $3.2 million will come from Charleston County's half-cent sales tax.
According to Wilkinson, some of the costs associated with the previous site will be recovered at the new one. Davis & Floyd drew up the original designs for the facility on West Montague, and in order to save money, CARTA is reusing most elements of the old building design at the Gaynor Avenue site. The design is modeled after architect Frank Milburn's Charleston Union Station, which was built downtown in 1907
This article originally stated that the new intermodal site is 1.14 acres in size. The site is actually about 8 acres. We regret the error.