A new “inland port” in South Carolina is a key project in a comprehensive 10-year program to improve shipping and the movement of cargo in the region and enhance cargo growth through the Port of Charleston.
The South Carolina Inland Port in Greer, 335 kilometers (210 miles) inland from Charleston, South Carolina, is not near a waterway, but it is adjacent to a major rail line and close to Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, so it serves a similar function as a water-based port.
The facility is one of more than 30 planned projects in the South Carolina State Ports Authority’s 10-year capital program to expand its comprehensive, efficient shipping network for South Carolina. Parsons Brinckerhoff is providing program management, planning, design, and construction management services for the Ports Authority’s USD $1.3 billion program.
The ultimate goal of the 10-year program is to make Charleston the leading shipping port in the Southeast United States. The hallmark project in the program – development of the new Naval Base Terminal – will increase Charleston’s container capacity by 50 percent.
Parsons Brinckerhoff came on board in December 2012 as program manager to provide planning, engineering, design, and construction phase services on behalf of the Ports Authority.
“We are essentially an extension of their engineering team,” says Jeff Schechtman, Principal-in-Charge for Parsons Brinckerhoff and project manager for the inland port. “We are based in their offices, and as the program got underway, some of their engineering staff joined us. Through this arrangement, we benefit from their institutional knowledge, and they benefit from career opportunities we are able to offer them.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff’s contract covers the first five years of the program, with a client option for the remaining five years.
Schechtman says it made sense for the client to have one firm play such a far-reaching role. “Flexibility was important to the Ports Authority,” he says. “The client wanted to employ a model under which they have consistency in engineering services, while also being able to ramp up for spikes in project workload, and ramp down afterward. If an unexpected project needs to be delivered quickly, we have the ability to make it a high priority and complete it in a shortened time frame.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff was able to demonstrate that flexibility from day one.
The design contract for the 36-hectare (90-acre) inland port in Greer had been awarded to another firm, with a two-year design and construction schedule, prior to Parsons Brinckerhoff’s arrival. “As design was just getting under way, the need arose to compress the schedule dramatically, to just over one year,” Schechtman says. “Parsons Brinckerhoff was asked to use its experience in alternative delivery methods to engage as the owner’s representative and oversee the engineering and construction of the project.”
Working with the Authority, Parsons Brinckerhoff applied a construction management at-risk model to the project, which allowed the original design firm to complete its work, while a contractor began work under the aggressive construction schedule.
One of the challenges during construction was a near-record rainfall that impacted all aspects of construction. By adjusting the construction plan to allow a portion of the terminal to open in October, the Ports Authority was able to begin operations to start on time while construction continued through the project’s full completion in January.
The inland port provides an efficient transportation and distribution option for containers moving to and from the Port of Charleston. With significant manufacturing activity based nearby, the inland port provides a new option for transporting containers to the Port of Charleston for export around the world. Similarly, containers arriving by sea in Charleston can now be loaded onto rail cars and transported overnight to the inland port for delivery to its final destination by truck.
The new terminal and its loading areas cover about 18 hectares (45 acres) – roughly half of the entire property – and included over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of track construction. There is an opportunity to expand the facility as demand grows beyond the terminal’s current capacity.
The inland port is also having an environmental impact, reducing the volume of diesel truck traffic transporting containers inland. Plans to electrify the diesel-powered cranes handling containers at the terminal will create additional environmental benefits.
“While economics was certainly a driver for this program, the environmental benefit of getting trucks off the highway was also a motivation,” he says. “Now many of the container trips will be by rail instead of trucks.”
The inland port is just the tip of the iceberg for what the Ports Authority hopes to accomplish over the next decade.
Individual projects within the program range in scope from relatively small USD $1 million infrastructure upgrades to USD $100 million terminal construction projects. The program includes work at five terminals located within 16 kilometers (10 miles) of one-another in Charleston, and a terminal in Georgetown, a coastal city 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the northeast.
The linchpin of the program is the 120-hectare (300-acre) Naval Base Terminal, an estimated USD $700 million container terminal being developed in stages, for which Parsons Brinckerhoff has served as construction manager since 2007.
“We’ve been doing construction management for seven years there, but are now taking on design responsibilities in addition to managing the construction, which is scheduled to carry through 2019,” Schechtman says. The program includes construction of a new terminal – comprising a container yard, wharf, buildings and gate facilities, and associated infrastructure – in an area that will be filled. A containment wall has already been constructed, and the initial fill contract was completed in February 2014.
The Ports Authority’s existing flagship container terminal at Port of Charleston, Wando Welch, will be upgraded to handle modern “New Panamax” container ships designed to transit the Panama Canal’s third locks when completed in 2015.
“Right now the Panama Canal is in the midst of upgrade to allow passage by larger ships than it can currently handle,” Schechtman says. “The Authority’s plans at Wando Welch call for upgrading the terminal’s wharf to accommodate larger ships and the larger cranes being procured to transfer cargo to-and-from these ships.
“The inland port was just the first game changer,” he adds. “There is much more to come.”