CHARLESTON — Designating the Charleston Harbor deepening as a nationally significant project could trim a couple years off the work, but U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that still depends on getting the money.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week that expedited studies could mean the project will be completed in 2020, instead of 2024 as originally projected.
The Obama Administration announced Wednesday evening that Charleston and four other harbor projects have been designated national significant projects and needed federal reviews and studies will be expedited. That means the work could now be completed by 2019.
Maritime interests want the harbor deepened to 50 feet to accommodate a new generation of larger container ships that will be calling when the Panama Canal is deepened in 2014.
The president issued an executive order in March to have the Office of Management and Budget oversee efforts to smooth the permitting and review process for infrastructure projects.
Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, said the announcement “demonstrates that the highest levels of our government understand the critical need to advance this project.” In two years, he said, the Charleston project has gone from not being included in the president’s budget to being a national priority.
Two of the projects designated as nationally significant under the federal We Can’t Wait program to improve infrastructure are harbor projects in Miami and Jacksonville, both in the key election state of Florida where President Barack Obama visited Thursday.
“My belief is this is a significant step forward toward a national vision that has been lacking. I’m not questioning the politics of the decision but what it does is puts in play a model I have been long advocating,” said Graham, who spoke with reporters by phone from Washington on Thursday.
He said the nation needs to look at all its port needs and come up with money to address them.
“The Congress will go beyond what the president did last night. The Congress intends to look at inland ports, West Coast ports and East Coast ports in more comprehensive fashion. The fact that the administration looked at ports in a new way … is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Local officials, including Graham, Newsome, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., sent letters to the steering committee last spring urging the Charleston deepening be made a priority.
Officials from the Corps of Engineers and the departments of Transportation, Commerce and Agriculture, participated.