The receipt of $12.1 million in federal dollars for an upgrade of the U.S. Highway 301-Interstate 95 interchange in Santee has been described as a game-changer for economic development in the eastern part of Orangeburg County.
The funds were received with festive accord Friday morning during a public celebration of what the upgrade will mean to the county and to the success of the much-anticipated Jafza South Carolina distribution center.
"We wanted to get the checks in the mail so we can get people back to work and start preparing our infrastructure for the future," Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez told those gathered in front of the Orangeburg County Development Commission headquarters off U.S. Highway 601, where Interstate 26 served as a backdrop. "Each construction job does have a ripple effect throughout the economy."
The money will pay for a southbound access ramp from U.S. 301 to I-95. The project will also extend U.S. 301 from the interchange to the site of the Jafza center.
The Jafza site is accessible via S.C. 6, though officials say trucks have to conduct dangerous turnaround maneuvers to get back to the interstate.
The county received the grant from a U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program. Sixth District Congressman James Clyburn announced the grant on Monday.
Clyburn previously secured $14.9 million for the project. The state is to provide $3 million and Orangeburg County contributes $1 million.
The project will be completed in two phases. The first phase will include the interchange and U.S. 301 extension work. The second phase will connect U.S. 301 through the Jafza site to S.C. Highway 6.
The total cost for the project's first phase is $26.4 million. The remaining $7 million will be the second phase of the project. Funding for the second phase has yet to be obtained, Clark said.
Mendez said there were 828 applications for the federal dollars, with 46 projects selected to share in $511 million. In South Carolina, Beaufort County also received money to widen roadways.
"You guys did an amazing job to be able to get one of those 46," Mendez said.
Mendez praised the partnerships created locally as the key to helping Orangeburg County stand out in the receipt of the funding.
"Working together is the only way we are going to move forward," Mendez said. "Our economic challenges were not created overnight and we know they are not going to be solved overnight."
Visiting on a day that Mother Nature seemed to be smiling on Orangeburg with mild December temperatures Mendez challenged Congress to do more for infrastructure by passing a long-term transportation bill and a jobs bill that invests in infrastructure.
"It is time to put partisanship aside. It is time to do big things for Americans and it is time to put Americans back to work," Mendez said. "It is time for the nation to learn from Orangeburg County about investing in infrastructure and helping people roll up their sleeves and start working again."
"The big piece of the puzzle has been solved," Orangeburg County Administrator Bill Clark said. "This is a key that will unlock the future for the I-95 corridor."
Clyburn was represented by liaison John Rickenbacker, who shared the congressman's comments.
He said the vision for the U.S. 301 interchange has been in the works for the past two decades.
"We began squirreling away money to improve that interchange to meet the needs of Jafza and future companies that would locate in the Global Logistics Triangle," Clyburn said via Rickenbacker. "This has been a labor of love before I took office in 1993, and it will continue to be my passion until we fully realize the fruits of our collective commitment. These investments will pay tremendous dividends for this region and our state far into the future. I look forward to more great days as we work to ensure that Orangeburg County and the I-95 corridor become an epicenter that it can and ought to be."
The interchange change is considered essential to Dubai-based Jafza's plans to develop a logistics, manufacturing and distribution park on 1,322 acres near Santee. The project is projected to produce as many as 6,000 jobs in an area that Orangeburg County markets as the Global Logistics Triangle. The GLS land area is bounded by Interstates 26 and 95, and U.S. 301.
Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright said, "This will give us an opportunity here to keep pursuing the Global Logistics Triangle ... and to complete the puzzle that we have trying to make sure that we put people in the John W. Matthews Park and complete those lines that we need for the Goodbys Creek Wastewater."
Wright presented Mendez a gift of cuff links and encouraged him to remember Orangeburg County when he wears them.
State Sen. John Matthews said the project is all about children. Those who grow up in a home, community and school with less will "always do less."
"This project will put a lot of our children in homes with more. They will send them to schools with more and live in a community with more and they will always do better," he said. "This is what I call building capacity, creating opportunity for the community we live in. This is the best Christmas present we have ever received in this county."
Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson said Food Lion's Distribution Center will most immediately benefit from the interchange. The company has 1.1 million square feet of operation space in Elloree.
"That is 115 trucks a day that will not have to pass through a school district," Robinson said. "Safety, economic development and logistics."
Joe Mauney, Food Lion transportation manager, says the new interchange will give the company an alternate route from S.C. 267, which presently takes truck traffic by Lake Marion High School.
"It will save a little in time because of the school traffic," he said. "A community never likes to see tractor-trailer traffic go by a school."
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