Leaders of a Middle Eastern development company that purchased about 1,300 acres of land near Santee seven years ago for a mega industrial park met this week with Orangeburg County and S.C. Department of Transportation officials to finalize paperwork for the development of the Interstate 95-U.S. 301 interchange.
Jafza South Carolina LLC still plans to develop the acreage for an industrial and commercial development park, and company officials say the upgrade of the interchange is a key component to the project moving forward.
“Backed by Jafza’s experience in developing and managing industrial and logistics zones and the state’s commitment towards improved multimodal connectivity through ports, road and rail, we have a very positive project evolving in Santee,” said Salama Hareb, group CEO of Jafza and Economic Zones World, during a visit with Orangeburg County officials.
Hareb joined interim DOT Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall in signing documents related to right-of-way and utility agreements with Jafza.
Jafza has donated about 43 acres of its land to help facilitate the construction of the interchange.
Hareb was joined in her visit with Hisham Abdulla Al Shirawi Al Shirawi, chairman of the EZW board and vice chairman of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce; Asim Al Abbasi, chief financial officer, and Samir Chaturvedi, head of EZW’s Global Development.
“This project will represent one of the largest projects in modern history by SCDOT and will offer direct access to over 2,000 acres for commercial and industrial development,” Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson said. “This will also include the Jafza Magna Park that will offer one of the state’s certified mega sites that is located on CSX rail with all utilities in place.”
The $41 million upgrade will mean a full-access interchange where I-95 and U.S. 301 meet in eastern Orangeburg County.
The plan also calls for U.S. 301, which currently ends when it merges onto I-95 northbound, to be extended to connect with Old Number Six Highway outside the Santee town limits. The S.C. 6 connector will connect to S.C. 6 between Intercoastal Lane and Milligan Road.
Mainline traffic will not have to slow down entering the interchange.
The project will allow those traveling on U.S. 301 north to access S.C. 6 without having to get on I-95, as is currently the case, as well as accessing both I-95 north and south. Those traveling on U.S. 301 south will also be able to access I-95 both north and south.
The project will include a five-lane and three-lane urban and rural transition going into and out of Santee on U.S. 301 and the S.C. 6 Connector.
“Plans are being developed and reviewed,” said Kevin Gantt, SCDOT program manager. “Construction is scheduled to begin mid to late April.”
The project is projected to last 440 days or 15 months. Work is scheduled to be completed in early 2015.
The interchange upgrade is moving forward despite Jafza having the property up for sale for $17.5 million.
The Jafza South Carolina project was announced in 2007 but has faced delays and changes blamed on worldwide recession.
County officials say Jafza is still interested in the property and putting it up for sale is not an indication the company is pulling out.
Gantt said during Jafza officials at the meeting are “excited about the progress being made.”
“It was a very productive meeting,” Gantt said. “Everything is coming together right now.”
“Jafza’s recent visit to execute agreements and tour the project site shows their commitment to develop their proposed industrial facility adjacent to the I-95/U.S. 301 Interchange and S.C. 6 Connector and also expedites our contractor’s efforts to begin construction on the project,” Hall said. “SCDOT is genuinely excited to see this project come together for the benefit of Orangeburg County, its citizens and the state of South Carolina.”
Robinson said the interchange is about improving infrastructure.
“Jobs follow capital investment,” Robinson said. “This is part of infrastructure and growth opportunities for our community and our region. We have put our resources into infrastructure and Jafza has the ability to help bring us jobs.”
Robinson said though there have been weather delays, behind-the-scenes work has not been lacking.
“When we talk about construction, moving on the ground and orange cones, I think we will see that in the next 30 days,” Robinson said. “Men and women are already on the site with the company. The bid and contract has been let. The money is in the bank ready to draw on.”
Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright described the meeting with Jafza as a “milestone” in the development of the I-95 corridor. The area is often cited as one of the poorest in the state, referred to as the “Corridor of Shame.”
“We have placed infrastructure at the forefront of economic development,” Wright said.
OCDC Chairman Kenneth Middleton said the agreement is part of the process and not an economic development event. “It takes commitment, sacrifice and patience as we prepare.”
The upgrade has been touted by county officials as a key to boosting economic development within the Global Logistics Triangle, which is the name the county uses to market the area bordered by I-26, I-95 and U.S. 301.
The upgrade is being funded by the Lower Savannah Council of Governments, $17.2 million; a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant, $12.1 million; federal earmarks, $11.2 million; and $500,000 in local funding from the Orangeburg County Transportation Committee.
The project’s initial approval for funding was through LSCOG and 6th District Congressman James Clyburn’s office in 2006. At that time about $3 million was allocated.
Initially, the project’s time line was extended and it was much more expensive. Costs were about $35-45 million.
In 2011, $13 million was identified through Clyburn’s office, LSCOG and matching funds in Orangeburg County.
In 2012, a federal grant arrived, which not only provided the project with $12.1 million, but also put it on a fast track.