Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal

hugh leatherman terminal ship evening

Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal

Saving Costs and Managing Challenges at South Carolina’s Newest Container Terminal

Entities up and down the East Coast of the U.S. are expanding the capacity of their ports to accommodate larger ships from the widened Panama Canal. But there has been only one new permitted container port completed in the last decade: the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Serving as the project’s program manager, our team worked around challenging site conditions, waterways, roads and motorists to deliver millions of dollars in savings for South Carolina Ports Authority. The first phase of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, which includes container-handling cranes and highway interchanges, opened in March 2021. We provided program management, construction site supervision, quality assurance and review of the detailed design for USD 310 million of the USD 985 million project. Phase one includes a new 1,400-foot berth and a container yard to accommodate 700,000 twenty-foot equivalent container units.

We worked with contractors and S.C. Ports Authority to deliver USD 39 million in savings for phase one — more than 12% of the final cost — through value engineering. These savings came from redesigning the wharf revetment and going to a precast construction system, changing the site drainage, switching from concrete to asphalt paving in the container yard, optimizing the number of yard light poles, streamlining water infrastructure, and redesigning the maintenance building.

Eventually the site will house three berths with a capacity of 2.4 million TEUs, doubling S.C. Ports’ capacity and allowing the Port of Charleston to efficiently handle container cargo for decades to come. At full build out, the terminal will cover 286 acres and have about 3,500 linear feet of marginal wharf, with a channel depth of 52 feet. The Port of Charleston will be capable of handling container ships up to 19,000 TEUs.

hugh leatherman terminal tugboats

Site Challenges and Mitigation Measures

We’ve acted as an extension of the port, managing several contractors and coordinating the response to unique site challenges. One such challenge is that the site, a former Navy Base, was used as an airfield in the 1940s. Crews have had to work around the possibility that an unexploded bomb was left behind from that era. Everyone working on site followed mitigation measures put into place by an unexploded ordnance expert, which included UXO training, protective zones around the work site, and installing a plexiglass shield to protect the cab of the crane used to drive the piles. These efforts ensure safety for both the construction process and future terminal operations.

Other complicating factors include multiple realignments of the access road to a nearby marina; the road cuts through the heart of the project and had to remain open for the duration of the project. Success also required close coordination with the South Carolina Department of Transportation, which is building a new interstate exit that includes multiple bridges to connect the port facility to nearby highways and to keep truck traffic off public side streets.

The project also features installing the tallest ship-to-shore cranes in South Carolina. The five ship-to-shore cranes, delivered in 2020, are designed with a lifting height of 169 feet and an outreach (from the waterside rail) of 228 feet. 

The Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal will further enable S.C. Ports to handle growing cargo volumes and mega container ships, ensuring South Carolina remains globally competitive. HDR has played an integral role in creating the country’s newest container terminal.

hugh leatherman terminal ship evening