A new Charleston County road to the Dreamliner assembly plant near Charleston International Airport could reduce traffic on area roads and spur development.
The $80 million plan would involve several overpasses and a new road near the airport, connecting Palmetto Commerce Parkway to South Aviation Avenue.
“Any road addition or expansion that will relieve traffic from the I-26, Rivers Avenue, or Dorchester Road corridors would be very beneficial to anyone going between Ladson and the airport area,” said Jay Tiedemann, executive vice president and chief operating officer of The InterTech Group, which includes Boeing supplier TIGHITCO on Palmetto Commerce Parkway.
“We would love to see this improvement completed as soon as possible.”
Some call the parkway “Boeing Corridor” because it’s home to Boeing’s aircraft interiors plant and some of Boeing’s suppliers. The last phase of the parkway was completed in 2011, and development along the roadway has been brisk.
Charleston County Councilman Elliott Summey said the plan to create a direct connection from the parkway to the airport area grew from recommendations developed in 2010 and the finding that about half of Boeing’s workforce commutes from areas north of Ashley Phosphate Road.
“The thought was, being able to get Boeing’s workforce to Boeing’s plant without having to use the interstate,” said Summey, head of the County Council Economic Development Committee.
Summey said that by some estimates the road plan could divert 50,000 cars from other roads, while also creating a new hurricane evacuation route.
“It’s going to game-changing stuff,” he said.
Standing in the way is a small but surprisingly complicated gap — a distance of a few thousand feet between the end of Palmetto Commerce Parkway at Ashley Phosphate Road, and South Aviation Avenue on the airport property.
South Aviation runs directly to Boeing’s plant, but it’s mostly a two-lane airport service road, and it’s close to the Air Force base. Summey said that having lots of civilian traffic nearby was identified as a problem during the last round of federal base-closure discussions.
So the county is working on a plan that would involve three overpasses and a new road, in order to shift traffic away from the airport while making the desired road connection, Summey said.
The first overpass would take Palmetto Commerce Parkway across Ashley Phosphate Road. The second would take the road over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks east of the existing South Aviation Avenue. And the third would bring the road back across the tracks somewhere north of Remount Road.
The road hasn’t been designed, but that work will begin now that the county has agreed to issue $80 million in bonds. With engineering work, permits and public hearings, it could take a year to 18 months to have a finished plan ready to go, according to Summey.
The county plans to repay the bonds with money that Boeing pays to the county instead of property tax, through a fee-in-lieu-of-tax deal that was part of the incentive package that brought Boeing’s Dreamliner assembly operation to South Carolina.
“We see infrastructure improvements such as this as a benefit to existing and potential companies in the area as well as local commuters,” said Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger.
The bonds will also fund the design of an additional Boeing-related road plan, redesigning Michaux Parkway as a direct connection to West Montague Avenue.
“It’s beneficial in terms of moving traffic, and for economic development,” said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who is Elliott Summey’s father.
“We see more and more people coming in, and growth with Boeing,” he said. “This gives the opportunity for an alternative route from the middle part of the city to the upper part of the city, without having to use I-26, Ashley Phosphate, or Rivers Avenue.”
Eric Carlson, president of Streit USA Armoring, which manufactures armored cars at a Palmetto Commerce Parkway site, said the road plan could save businesses money as well.
“The proposed extension to South Aviation will ease congestion for my employees commuting from the south, especially those coming from West Ashley, and also ease the transportation line haul for our sold vehicles moving to the airport,” he said. “Of course, when the transportation gets easier, it frequently results in lower cost and that’s always a good thing for my business.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.