SWANSEA – State and local officials kicked off the $439.3 million Interstate 26 widening project from Gaston to St. Matthews on Monday afternoon.

“It is going to be a big deal for rural South Carolina as we continue to connect our rural communities to our urban communities and, at the end of the day, just to support commerce and make sure we have a lot of people out here with good, high-paying jobs ” said Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews.

“We are going to get this project started and finished as quick as possible,” Ott said.

Ott and others spoke during a groundbreaking ceremony held on the helicopter pad located near Interstate 26’s Exit 129 in Calhoun County.

The state is widening I-26 from four lanes to six lanes from mile marker 125 to mile marker 136. Work will begin in the next few months and will include the reconstruction of the interchanges along the stretch and the rehabilitation and replacement of seven bridges.

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The project is expected to be complete by the end of 2027.

The construction contract was awarded March 7 to South Carolina-based C.R. Jackson, Inc.

The S.C. Department of Transportation says the purpose of the widening is to alleviate existing and future congestion, address geometric deficiencies at the interchanges by bringing them up to current interstate design standards and improve road safety.

The 11-mile stretch of I-26 had 1,652 crashes from 2015 until 2019. Those crashes resulted in 374 injuries and six fatalities.

SCDOT officials say half of crashes were rear-end collisions. About 28% were single-vehicle crashes where people ran off the road.

Interchanges will be reconstructed to improve the angles, there will be safer ramps and intersection sight distances will be improved.

The bridges will also have wider shoulders, helping to improve visibility at intersections.

The project will be funded through the state’s 10-year gas tax increase program, the Rural Interstate Freight program and the American Rescue Act.

This stretch of I-26 carries more than 24 million vehicles per year, which includes about five million trucks.

Ott said the widening is needed.

“Whenever we have incidents and accidents on I-26, right now a lot of them pull off the interstate and are using our secondary roads and it really does cause a lot of problems for folks who live in this area,” Ott said. “We are so proud we are going to be able to accelerate this project for what it was originally designed for because of the federal money that we were able to draw down on Washington.”

In addition to the widening, the bridges to be rehabilitated as part of the project will include:

• Valley Road over I-26

• U.S. 21 (Columbia Road) over I-26

• Sunny Plain Road over I-26

• S.C. 6 (Caw Caw Highway) over I-26

There will also be two new bridges constructed over Sandy Run Creek and over Murph Mill Creek.

I-26’s grassy median will remain in place.

SCDOT says the interstate and on and off ramps will be open throughout the duration of the project and that the public will be informed of any road closures ahead of time.

Detours will reroute traffic at the overpasses. The detours are expected to impact traffic on Valley Ridge Road, Sunny Plain Road and Big Beaver Creek Road.

“Widening I-26 from Columbia to Charleston is a passion to me,” said Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia. “It ought be six lanes all the way. This is the key to commerce in South Carolina. It is key to the jobs in South Carolina. It is the key to the economy of South Carolina.”

“This project is more than just interstate widening,” S.C. Transportation Secretary Justin Powell said. “It is a critical piece of our work to better connect rural South Carolina to the global economy.”

“I-26 is South Carolina’s main street,” Powell continued. “It runs right through the heart of South Carolina from the Upstate to the Lowcountry. It is critical to connecting people with jobs, economic opportunity and education.

“We are working hard to fix I-26 and this project is just another milestone in building a better interstate network.”

Gov. Henry McMaster said the sound of traffic on I-26 “is the sound of money.”

“That means that South Carolina is growing,” McMaster said. “We are ahead of the rest of the states. We are the envy of the whole country. South Carolina is now a model of commerce and conservation.”

When the six lanes are completed, the lane reversals typically implemented during coastal hurricane evacuations may not be required, he said.

The next section of I-26 to be widened following the 125 to 136 mile marker stretch will be from Exit 136 to Exit 145, which will begin later in 2025 and into 2026. Powell said the project is currently in the design phase.

The larger project

The I-26 widening project is a part of a larger effort to improve the state’s highway transportation infrastructure.

In October 2022, state and local officials held a ceremony kicking off the widening of I-26 to six lanes between Charleston and Columbia.

The S.C. General Assembly in June 2022 approved spending nearly $2 billion toward the project.

The initial plan called for widening the 70 miles of I-26 in a few segments every few years all the way to 2034. The total six-phase widening project is now six years ahead of schedule thanks to the receipt of federal funding.

The first part of the I-26 widening project covered seven miles between the Jedburg exit and S.C. Highway 27 (exits 187 to 194).

The first part of the project also included upgrading the SC-27 interchange. That project began in the summer of 2023.

In January of this year, state and local officials gathered to kick off the upgrade of the Interstate 95 and Interstate 26 interchange, located at the Orangeburg County and Dorchester County line.

The $240 million project will upgrade the interchange to have two separate flyovers to handle some of the high-volume movements through the interchange.

Funding for the interchange modernization comes from the National Highway Performance Program and the State of South Carolina.

Officials estimate that project will be complete in the summer of 2027.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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