The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in cooperation with the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), are in the process of preparing environmental documentation and conceptual engineering for the consolidation and separation of rail corridors along Assembly Street and surrounding areas located south of downtown Columbia, South Carolina. SCDOT is responsible for managing the project while FHWA and FRA will provide final approval. The funding for the environmental documentation and conceptual engineering phase of the project will be through federal Congressional Earmark funds and a FRA grant. Right of Way Acquisition and Construction funding options may include local pursuit of federal grants, as well as other existing transportation funding resources. The project area consists of an approximate 1.2 square mile area in south central Columbia, SC. The project area is generally bounded by:
In addition to the limits described above, this project may involve railroad improvements to the existing NS W-line and CSXT S-line currently located along the corridor commonly known as “The Ditch”, as well as improvements to the existing NS R-line between Pickens Street and west of Huger Street. Furthermore, the project consists of developing the conceptual engineering for roadway improvements necessary for the completion of the environmental document within the designated project area, including the Olympia – Huger Street Connector.
The Assembly Street Railroad project and related rail studies for the area have been around since 1981 when an Environmental Impact Study was completed as part of the “Columbia Railroad Relocation and Roadway Grade Separation Project.” From this study, four phases for improvement were recommended, these included:
1. Phase 1-A (Assembly Street)
2. Phase 1-B (Elmwood Loop, which was completed in the 1980s)
3. Phase 1-C (the Ditch, which was completed in 1987)
4. Phase II (the Fairwold Connection, which has not been completed or studied further at this point)
In 2009, a Feasibility study was completed for the Assembly Street Railroad Corridor Consolidation. From this study, five alternatives were identified for rail separation, consolidation and improvements along the Norfolk Southern and CSX rail lines in and around downtown Columbia. We are now reassessing those alternatives and identifying additional feasible alternatives to carry forward to be studied further with environmental documentation and preliminary design.
Coordination with agencies, local stakeholders and the public plays a vital role in gaining support and obtaining valuable input and local knowledge for a project. Since the spring of 2018 the project team has met and coordinated numerous times with appropriate state and federal agencies and has held several large and small stakeholder group meetings with local groups including the Capital City Mill District, University of SC, the City of Columbia and larger community groups.
Along with an online survey, created in the summer of 2018 which obtained over 600 comments, the first public information meeting was held in June 2018 and it allowed the project team to gain valuable information and applicable local concerns and input regarding desired improvements within the project corridor.