Barges might move cargo boxes among Port of Charleston terminals in the coming years.
The S.C. State Ports Authority is considering the idea as part of an effort to remove more trucks from the Lowcountry’s congested highways.
Rather than trucks taking cargo off trains and driving on Interstates 526 and 26 to their designated terminals, barges would traverse rivers and the harbor ferrying the cargo.
“It is a concept that we have firmly on our radar screen,” Port CEO Jim Newsome said. “It will take a lot of development. It only makes sense. We’re moving 300,000 containers (annually) by truck today to and from the rail.”
The inner-harbor barge would work in concert with the Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, a 100-acre cargo transfer site the state is developing in North Charleston. CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. will both use that rail yard, set to open in 2019. The cargo site will connect to the future Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal under construction nearby.
Export cargo arriving at the intermodal site on trains would be taken to a nearby terminal, loaded onto a barge and moved across the harbor to the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, where it would await a containership, for example.
Cargo arriving at marine terminals would be loaded on a barge to North Charleston, where they would be sent to the nearby container yard and loaded onto rail cars headed inland.
The ports authority has filed for a marine highway designation with the U.S. Department of Transportation — a first step in the regulatory process and one that could lead to federal grants for the project.
The barge concept is in the incipient planning stages and few details were made available.
Newsome said more progress will be made on the barge project once the Charleston Harbor deepening construction begins, adding that its future depends on the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility’s opening.
“I think it’s got a lot of potential for the port and the community in terms of alleviating some of the traffic on 526, if we’re successful,” Newsome said.