Proposed widening projects to dramatically transform interstate travel

(WIS) –Driving to and from South Carolina’s capital city is going to get a bit more challenging in the near future, but it’s all in the interest of improving aging interstates that are sorely in need of attention.

South Carolina Department of Transportation projects in the planning stages to widen portions of Interstate 77 and Interstate 20 will add an additional 18 miles of three-lane arteries in and out of Columbia.

The two proposed widening and rehabilitation projects will join one that has been completed and another that is in progress to create a total of 34 miles of interstate highway that has been or will be improved.

The first of the large-scale projects, the 6-mile I-20 widening project in northeast Richland County, was completed in the summer of 2014 at a cost of approximately $75 million. Contractors took less than two years to rehabilitate and add one lane each way from I-77 to Spears Creek Church Road.

Those who frequented the area had to deal with a mishmash of directional travel that confused even the most savvy Columbia rush hour traveler. Accidents that would be classified as minor on a normal interstate would often tie traffic up for hours because of the layout of the lanes and skinny travel lanes. Once the project was complete, however, the additional lanes have helped to ease congestion in that growing area.

Just months after the completion of I-20, crews began construction on the next widening project. Plans call for widening I-26 from I-77 south to Old Sandy Run Road. Crews are in the process of transforming the roadway from four to six lanes in that 10-mile stretch. Additional rehab work is being done on 11 more miles east of the widening zone, ending at the Caw Caw Road exit.

Potholes and uneven roadway along a portion of the stretch have caused several flat tires. On a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, at least five vehicles could be seen pulled to the side of the road in need of repair.

The $76 million project is scheduled to be finished this September.

The next widening effort on the calendar is on I-77 north of I-20. Those who frequent the area will soon likely be dealing with the same orange cones, lane closures and bumpy travel those in other parts of the metro area have gotten used to. A $62.6 million project to add an additional lane in each direction from I-20 to Killian Road could begin late this year. Contractors will improve another five miles of existing interstate to Blythewood Road as part of the project.

The SCDOT has scheduled an informational meeting for those who are interested in the project. It will be held on Tuesday, March 17 at Centura College at 7500 Two Notch Road from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

On the other side of town, Lexington County residents will likely see Interstate 20 from Longs Pond Road to U.S. 378 become a construction zone as soon as next spring. Eleven miles of interstate will be transformed from a four-lane road to a six-lane road if the $86.2 million project becomes reality. Planning is underway.

ACT 98 of 2013, which provided SCDOT with an additional $50 million to finance mainline interstate improvements, helped fund the proposed I-77 and I-20 projects.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about a possible fix for malfunction junction, there’s currently no funding for overhauling the antiquated intersection of I-20 and I-26. There is some preliminary planning in progress, though. A $10 million funding feasibility report and environmental impact statement is slated to be completed in 2018.

The total cost for the four widening projects is hovering around $300 million.

Until then, have patience and drive safely.

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