City, county & state leaders calling for change in I-85 construction zone following deadly crash, SCDOT says all options on the table

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GAFFNEY, S.C. (WSPA) – Changes are coming to the construction zone on I-85 in Cherokee County following a crash that left three people dead Thursday afternoon. Both Cherokee County and Gaffney city leaders said action needs to be taken quickly to prevent another tragedy.

This is a stretch of road a lot of Cherokee County residents do their best to avoid.

“We try to stay off of 85. We use 29, the frontage roads,” said Cowpens Residents, John & Joanne Kopchik.

It hasn’t always been that way though. They said it was all sparked by the I-85 widening project and the chutes placed there.

“It is a death trap, where are you going to go if there’s a tractor-trailer coming up behind you? Where are you going to go?,” Joanne Kopchik told us.

They’ve been contacting state lawmakers for months with no sound of a plan for change. That is, until tragedy struck.

“It’s not fair to the community and the people that travel,” said Gaffney Fire Chief, Jamie Caggiano.

Gaffney’s Fire Chief Jamie Caggiano said his department is out in that construction zone just about daily, responding to wrecks.

He along with Cherokee County leaders and state lawmakers are pushing for something to change.
Senator Harvey Peeler said in part, this tragedy illustrates the need for SCDOT and highway patrol to take more accountability for this project.

County leaders want the DOT to hire an independent contractor to review the effectiveness of the safety measures put into place in the widening project.

“If we have to work this weekend, that’s what we’ll do,” Christy Hall said. “We’ll continue our discussion on what else can be done. All options are on the table. I haven’t ruled any options out–including re-evaluating the use of the chute,” Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall said.

Secretary of Transportation, Christy Hall told 7NEWS, they’re making some changes like reducing the speeds in the southbound lanes of the construction zone and more work signs will be posted.

You can find a full statement from SCDOT here:

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is reviewing “all options” to increase safety and improve traffic conditions along the Spartanburg and Cherokee County Interstate 85 construction project in the wake of the tragic crash on July 15, 2021.

SCDOT is working with law enforcement officials to gain a better understanding of the circumstances that led to the incident on the I-85 construction project. This project has been plagued by crashes throughout the work zone, including crashes like this one that involved tractor trailers that were traveling in lanes designated for passenger vehicles only. The agency is continuing efforts with law enforcement and local first responders to identify and implement additional measures designed to get motorists to slow down, pay attention and stay in the proper lanes.  

“All options are on the table,” Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall said Friday, July 16, 2021, after a team of SCDOT traffic engineers reassessed the construction site. “We find all fatal and serious injury incidents unacceptable. In addition, lengthy traffic backups experienced by motorists along this work zone are not acceptable at all in our view.”

SCDOT has also asked national work zone experts for assistance as the agency struggles to have motorists slow down, pay attention and keep tractor trailers in the proper lanes.

SCDOT will be lowering the speed limit to at least 45 mph on the southbound direction and revising signage in the work zone as the agency continues to work closely with law enforcement and first responders.

Beginning Saturday, July 17, 2021, the State Transport Police will be stationed at the I-85 construction zone as an additional law enforcement measure. A part of the S.C. Department of Public Safety, the State Transportation Police are primarily responsible for enforcing state and federal laws governing commercial motor vehicles, including trucks.

 “I would like to thank Department of Public Safety Director Robert G. Woods for his valuable assistance and partnership as we address these challenging conditions,” Secretary Hall said.

Additionally, here is a statement from Senator Harvey Peeler’s office:

“We are one distracted driver away from death and destruction on this interstate.”

This was my comment just last week during a meeting where SCDOT was present to address issues concerning the construction on I-85. The tragic accident yesterday illustrates the need for SCDOT and SC Highway Patrol to take more accountability for this project.

When talk first began on using traffic chutes three years ago, I expressed my concern that they would be death traps. Unfortunately, for our community, this has held true and something has to be done about it. I am calling on SCDOT and the SC Highway Patrol to take action and immediately take the necessary precautions to make sure I-85 is a safe place for our families and loved ones to travel.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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