The City of Charleston is seeking federal funding for the design and public input process for the Charleston Lowline project, a proposed 1.7-mile long linear park space running under the Interstate 26 overpass on the peninsula. 

Last week, Charleston park officials had hoped to get $25 million for construction, but the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said plans were still too preliminary to warrant a grant that large. 

“Each time these grants open, the competitiveness of all these projects across the country is extremely high,” said the city’s Park Director Jason Kronsberg. “There are so many projects that rank so high, it gets down to single digit points in the scoring metrics at the DOT level.

“This one being a construction grant, some of the ranking criteria is: ‘Is the project shovel ready?’ ” he said. “That would mean you have construction documents completed, permitting nearly done and you’re ready to put that project out for competitive bids.”

The park would begin at Huger Street, ending at Mount Pleasant Street. Proposals included stormwater management upgrades, public parking availability, affordable housing projects in supported areas and would support the upcoming Lowcountry Rapid Transit Project — a bus rapid transit system that will connect Charleston’s hospital district and Summerville with dedicated bus lanes. 

The city applied for the grant with a conceptual plan, but not a detailed design, which Kronsberg said may have just edged them out of the running. The city is now scaling back its request, applying instead for a separate $7-million planning grant also through the federal DOT. 

“When we met with the federal reviewer for feedback on that application, he recommended we go for a planning grant and go through a robust community engagement process and get our construction documents so we are truly shovel ready when we go back for the construction grant,” he said.

Kronsberg added that he didn’t consider the rejection for the construction grant to be a major setback. The city dealt with similar hurdles during the grant-application process for the West Ashley pedestrian bridge project. That bridge is currently being built after the city received an $18 million construction grant from the U.S. DOT last October. 

“It’s much like the Ashley River Crossing build grant we secured from the DOT — that took us three tries,” Kronsberg said. “Each time, it got better based on our reviews from the DOT and the feedback we got.”

Ultimately, the timeline of the Lowline project hasn’t changed much. Even if the city’s parks department had received the $25 million grant, the project would still need to go through the community engagement and construction-drawing process. 

The project is supported by the nonprofit Friends of the Lowcountry Lowline (FLL), which seeks private donations to supplement project costs. The city partnered with FLL in 2017 to buy the unused railroad track and adjacent land that will become the park for $4.84 million. 

The city also plans to use general fund money and revenue from the Lowcountry’s tax increment financing district, or TIF funds. TIF revenue and funds raised by the FLL will go toward the city’s match for the grant. Construction is expected to begin in 2025.

“Everyone would like things to move a lot more quickly, but working with our nonprofit partner, the Friends of the Lowline — they have done a lot of work on this current grant application,” Kronsberg said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We’re just looking forward to hopefully getting this grant and kicking off the construction document process.”

Help the City Paper keep delivering excellence

Winner of top 2021 state journalism honors (best editorial writing and best cartoon), the Charleston City Paper brings you the Best of Charleston every day. Support our “unafraid” journalism with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.