SPARTANBURG CO., S.C. (WSPA) – The work we’ve been seeing on I-85 is part of a large widening project. It’s goal is to make the interstate less congested and safer.
7 News found out where the project stands, and what it means for the Upstate.
Officials in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties see it bringing many benefits to our area, but it doesn’t come without a cost.
7 News spoke with folks who have been directly impacted by the process.
Orange flags, cones, and flashing signs cover Interstate 85, from mile marker 77 in Spartanburg County to mile marker 106 in Cherokee County.
“This has been a long time coming,” Jim Cook, with the Cherokee County Development Board, said.
Cook told 7 News he’s never been happier to see the interstate so busy and so orange.
“You can see the progress,” he said. “Seems like it’s coming along pretty good.”
Cook lives in Blacksburg, works in Gaffney, and travels to Spartanburg and Greenville often, so I-85 is a main route for him.
He’s noticed–like many other drivers–the construction delays and the occasional stop-and-go traffic on his daily commute.
“You can’t build a road over night. It takes years to build these roads and we need it,” he said. “It’s just the process that we have to go through to get to better times.”
Those better times, according to officials with the South Carolina Department of Transportation, will include six lanes instead of four, reconstructed interchanges, the addition and replacement of several bridges, and improved exit and entrance ramps.
Some people impacted by the project see it from a different view, having to give up their land, homes, and businesses to make way for the construction.
Makayla McCraw and her mom run a beauty shop in Cowpens, but their new shop is not one they were expecting to have to open.
“We were closed for eight months,” McCraw said. “We came back and it wasn’t as busy as it used to be. We had to build it back up.”
A word many folks would use to describe the current situation on the interstate is the word McCraw uses to describe the process her family had to go through to relocate their business: “Stressful.”
The McCraws were forced to leave their old shop–conveniently located right off of exit 83–As it, along with several other structures, had to be demolished in order for the interstate to be widened and to have room for the newly-designed interchanges.
It cost the McCraws a lot of time, money, and clientele; but even so, McCraw keeps a positive attitude.
“Everything has a reason for why it’s done,” she said.
McCraw told 7 News, while the widening project inconvenienced them for a bit, it opened new doors for them.
Where they had been renting their last salon, they now have a shop they can officially call their own.
“I am thankful to God for that,” she said.
And speaking of business, economic experts say the widening project could bring more to the area.
“Disruption is always aggravating, but, hopefully, at the end of the day, the improved access on and off of 85 in that area will generate new retail opportunities,” Carter Smith, with the Spartanburg Economic Futures Group, said.
“The majority of our industries in Cherokee County are less than a mile off the interstate, so that shows the importance of the interstate and what it means to them,” Cook added.
They say the project, once completed, will create a better flow of traffic, which in turn means a better, quicker distribution of products.
“We look at I-85 as being, obviously, a major trucking corridor, moving goods up and down the eastern seaboard,” Smith said.
And with Cherokee and Spartanburg counties being between two busy cities like Greenville and Charlotte, Cook said he can see people possibly moving to the area as well.
“The Blacksburg side is 30 minutes from the Charlotte airport,” he said. “They can look right outside and see a beautiful, little, rural county with great interstate access.”
But most importantly, Cook said the interstate will be a much safer, more efficient thoroughfare.
“It will definitely help the safety of the citizens of Cherokee County and folks traveling through our county.”
It’s something drivers, like Makayla McCraw, are excited to hear.
“There were a lot of accidents, speeding. But, hopefully, all of that will be fixed,” she said.
One phase of the project, from mile marker 98 to the North Carolina state line, is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021, with an estimated cost of $181 million.
The larger phase of the project, from mile marker 77 to 98, is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2023, with a cost of about $435 million.
McCraw told 7 News it’s all worth it.
“At first, I thought it was unfair, but now, looking back at it, I think it was the right thing,” she said.
Officials with the South Carolina Department of Transportation want to remind drivers to obey the reduced speed limit signs, stay patient, alert, and off your cell phone in the construction zones.