I-85 Widening construction project: Why it’s taking longer than expected

Local News

CHEROKEE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – The I-85 Widening Project in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties is the second largest construction project in South Carolina Department of Transportation’s history.

The project has been going on for nearly 4 years, and it past it’s initial anticipated completion date of 2021.

SC DOT’s Deputy Secretary of Engineering Leland Colvin explained that the project had a lot of moving pieces that didn’t always fit together.

“It’s a lot going on when you’ve got 28 miles of interstate widening, eight interchanges, and two over passes, a lot going on,” Colvin said.

According to SC DOT’s traffic counting website, the daily average for vehicles traveling across I-85 between Cowpens and the state line is around 52,000 (data from 2019 count). Thus, the attempt to add one additional northbound and southbound lane was dealing with high traffic volumes while trying to alleviate the high traffic volumes.

The Interstate 85 project faced another issue: project funding.

Colvin noted that for a long time, the money wasn’t there. But, he thanked state legislators for the 2017 South Carolina Roads Bill. The bill increased the state’s gas tax 12 cents over six years. From that, $750 million dollars was given to the I-85 widening project.

Construction on I-85 has been broken down into Two Phases.

Phase One: From mile marker 77 in Spartanburg County to the Broad River. Its planning and design began June 2017 and construction followed in 2018.

Phase Two: From Broad River to the North Carolina state line. Its planning and design started May of 2018 and construction followed in 2019.

The entire I-85 Widening Construction Project was anticipated to be completed in 2021, but it’s now been moved to late 2023.

Colvin says a few major setbacks forced schedules to shift. Things that couldn’t be helped: COVID-19, difficult weather conditions, and a crash on the Highway 110 bridge that shut down one lane of I-85 and the entire bridge forced construction plans to change.

Plus, Colvin added, one of the biggest problems was the CSX railroad bridge.

“At roughly mile maker 83 so we thought that we might get a waiver on. But, we were not able to get a waiver on that from CSX. So, we had to kick back and punt there. Also, during this project the legislature passed a Utility Bill which allowed any transportation sponsor to pick up the public water and sewer utilities as part of the contract.”

Many commuters on I-85 will note how hazardous traveling on that section of I-85 has become. Colvin agreed that it’s more challenging given how large the project is. SCDOT has made accommodations to increase safety, for instance, the lanes have been widened from 12 to 16 feet giving all vehicles more space.

“We’ve got standby wrecker services, 24 hours [to aid with crashes in the construction zones]. I mentioned the 24-hour law enforcement out there and we’ve reduced the speed limit 70 miles per hour to 50 miles an hour. It’s certainly going to see some growing pains going through that,” Colvin explained.

Colvin added that SCDOT is working hard to meet its late 2023 deadline and is currently on budget.

Also, once the project is completed, I-85 won’t need more any major work for a while.

“When you start looking at volumes, I think we’re going to be in fine shape for several years,” Colvin said.

What drivers will have to anticipate, after the work is complete, is potential construction in North Carolina.

Since I-85 northbound will flow from three lanes to two out of South and into North Carolina, that could become a problem with growing traffic volumes.

“But at some point in the future, North Carolina will look to address the first 10 miles in their state. I feel confident they will,” Colvin added.

He added that this potential work, won’t be for at least a few more years.

For updates on construction and the latest information on I-85 Widening Project, click here.

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