CHEROKEE CO., S.C. (WSPA) – After multiple crashes and a major back-up over the weekend, the South Carolina Department of Transportation is working on making the chute portion of Interstate 85 in Cherokee and Spartanburg counties safer.
7 News spoke with a man who was stuck in that back-up, and learned from road officials what drivers can expect when traveling through the area in the near future.
“I was in the left lane, and things were going great; and then, suddenly, we came to a screeching halt,” said Tom Gardner.
Gardner was traveling south on I-85 Saturday, on his way from Charlotte to Spartanburg, when he got stuck in what he called the longest traffic jam he’s ever experienced.
“I thought it would be about an hour, and then it wasn’t,” he said. “And time kept going on longer and longer and longer.”
Gardner said he was stuck near mile marker 87 in Cherokee County for almost seven hours.
“We stopped on the freeway at about 11:15 in the morning and we got going just after 6:00,” he said.
According to S.C. Highway Patrol, there were four crashes on that southbound section of I-85, between mile marker 86 and 91.
Gardner said people were getting anxious and concerned, unsure of how long they’d be out there.
“There was a car behind me with a 5-month-old baby. People had turned off their engines to conserve gas, and there were a lot of people who really had to use the restroom and there was no place to go,” he said. “I had a couple of bottles of water back there and my daughter had some leftover peanut butter crackers, so I used that to snack on while I was waiting.”
Because they were in the chute portion of the I-85 widening project, there was no way to get out.
“I was on a one-lane road of the interstate, surrounded by cement walls, and there was no shoulder; so, there was no place for us to go forward because of the accidents, and behind us, there were trucks, and they weren’t able to make room for cars to squeeze by.”
SCDOT told 7 News the chute is essential in getting the widening project done as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and they say it’s supposed to be the safest way in doing so.
“Nobody’s changing lanes, everyone is moving straight on through, so we do see some benefits from that,” said Chief Engineer for Operations Andrew Leaphart.
SCDOT officials said the delay was caused by an 18-wheeler being in the chute, which, they said, is not supposed to happen.
“We have put up signs to have all truck traffic in the right lane, so they are not in the chute itself,” said Deputy Secretary for Engineering Leland Colvin.
The good news, SCDOT said, is they have plans to cut some gaps in those concrete barrier walls, about every two miles, to prevent something like this from happening again.
“It will allow folks with our emergency services to get into the chute to help clear a wreck, but it’ll also allow a relief out for the average motorists who are stuck in the chute,” Colvin said.
“While everybody was stressed and worried, at the same time, they weren’t taking out their concern on others. They weren’t mad at others,” Gardner said. “We realized that we were all in there together, and we made the best out of a bad situation.”
SCDOT told 7 News they’ll start working on putting gaps in the walls of the chute this week.
They are hoping to be completed with the I-85 widening project by the end of 2023.
Troopers told us all four of Saturday’s crashes involved injuries, but none were life-threatening.