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SCDOT Begins Work On Fixing I-26's 'Tangled Mess of Ramps' South of Columbia

Tue May 16, 2023 - Southeast Edition #11
Charleston Post and Courier & Orangeburg Times and Democrat


The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) broke ground May 5 on a project to redesign and modernize a major Interstate 26 interchange near Columbia as part of a larger plan to repair the freeway connecting the capital city to Charleston and the Upstate region of the state.

The work is intended to construct more modern on and off ramps at the convergence of U.S. Highway 21 and I-26, located 12 mi. south of downtown Columbia near I-77. It is hoped that the improved highway also will stimulate growth in the Midlands and across the state, South Carolina Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall noted at the event.

The I-26/U.S. 21 interchange has stood since 1959 and is a "tangled mess of ramps" that is in desperate need of a facelift as South Carolina continues to grow, Hall said.

S.C. Leaders Hope Upgrades Will Stimulate Economy

SCDOT started construction on the $62.1 million project in the days following the groundbreaking, according to the Post and Courier. The entire effort is expected to take about three years, but drivers will have access to the same number of lanes as they normally would during construction, Hall explained.

Work is starting off with the demolition of the U.S. 21 overpass and the construction of a new bridge in its place. The current cloverleaf ramps will be replaced with diamond shaped ramps that are more compatible with current Interstate vehicle speeds, according to a statement from SCDOT.

Additionally, U.S. 21 and Rolling Meadows Lane will be realigned to simplify the road network and accommodate a new eastbound offramp.

Lawmakers touted the soon-to-be improved interchange as an access point to a major South Carolina business hub.

State Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, highlighted the impact the project will have for cargo access to nearby businesses such as Blanchard Machinery, Linder Industrial Machinery and the State Farmers Market.

His colleague, Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, added the I-26/U.S. 21 interchange upgrades should positively impact the Saxe Gotha Industrial Park, home to Nephron Pharmaceuticals and a pair of Amazon facilities, just a few miles from the project site.

Additionally, improving the infrastructure in rural areas of South Carolina could attract new businesses and bring in well-paying jobs for Palmetto State residents living in more remote areas, Ott said.

Interstate 26 Also Being Readied for Major Expansion

According to Hall, SCDOT will continue to make major improvements to I-26 and take steps to improve the outdated road in the coming years.

That includes a major $2 billion effort to widen I-26 from Columbia to Charleston, which SCDOT hopes to have under way by summer 2024, the Orangeburg Times Democrat reported.

Last fall, Gov. Henry McMasters announced the lane-expansion project at a press conference following the South Carolina General Assembly's approval of its funding in June 2022.

The construction will include widening much of the four-lane interstate to six lanes between Charleston and Columbia.

In an interview with the Times and Democrat after the press conference, Hall said the state will likely begin soliciting bids at the end of 2023 for at least a part of the 70-mi.-long project.

The first section of the I-26 expansion will cover seven mi. between the freeway's Jedburg exit and S.C. 27, northwest of Summerville, and cost $218 million.

"It is designed to help alleviate traffic flow, support the growth that is occurring in this fast-growing region of our state, and improve safety," she explained.

The initial phase of the work also includes upgrading the S.C. 27 interchange with I-26, including replacing the S.C. 27 overpass, Hall added, and rebuilding three other nearby bridges.

Contractors, Materials to Come From South Carolina

Within 30 days of the state General Assembly approving the funds for the project, SCDOT began the process to hire a construction company, which resulted in a bid award to Banks Construction, a Charleston-based firm.

Approximately $13 million of the work on the first part of the project will be done by small and minority-owned South Carolina businesses, Hall said.

"Not only is this project being built by South Carolina firms, but [most] of the materials that will go into building this magnificent interstate will be sourced right here from South Carolina," she noted in speaking to the Orangeburg news source. "Concrete, steel, asphalt, rock, cement — all of that is homegrown and is amplifying the economic impact of just a single road project."

Since I-26 was first built 60 years ago, its traffic has only increased and the stretch of interstate between Columbia and Charleston is often "plagued with congestion, delays and accidents," Hall explained.

In addition, she noted that the freeway carries more than 22 million vehicles per year, which includes about seven million trucks.

Hall said her agency's initial plan called for expanding I-26 by a couple of segments every few years all the way to 2034. But, with SCDOT's efforts now accelerated, the total project is currently six years ahead of schedule.

Dirt will not be moved until all the rights of-ways are cleared and the utilities are relocated along the 7-mi. stretch of the first phase. That process may take about six months, Hall explained, so construction will not begin for another year.

The Times and Democrat noted that after construction gets under way for the first phase, the state agency's bid process will begin for the widening of I-26 south from Columbia.

After that, SCDOT will move on to readying the I-26/I-95 interchange to complement the I-26 widening effort.




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