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‘Carolina Crossroads’ Update: SCDOT Targets ‘Malfunction Junction’

What the future holds for the largest infrastructure project in South Carolina history …

This week, officials with the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) announced revised plans to complete the largest infrastructure project in state history – a massive overhaul of multiple congested interchanges at the geographic center of the Palmetto State’s outdated interstate system.

The project also includes upgrades to multiple major interstates flowing in and out of those two interchanges … which have been collectively dubbed “Malfunction Junction.”

A poorly conceptualized “cloverleaf” conjoined to a dysfunctional directional interchange, “Malfunction Junction” handles traffic coming in and out of Columbia, S.C. (Interstate 126) as well as local and regional traffic headed to and from Charleston and Greenville/ Spartanburg (Interstate 26) and to and from Augusta and Florence (Interstate 20).

Agency officials announced their revised plans to untangle this mess once and for all at a forum with industry partners held just 3,000 feet away from where construction crews were completing the initial phases of the sprawling ‘Carolina Crossroads‘ project.

“We really want to get this moving – we don’t want to lose momentum,” project manager Brian Klauk told the assembled crowd. “We want to continue the progress we’ve made and minimize the risk to any future construction.”

Klauk laid out SCDOT’s vision for doing just that – a multi-faceted third phase to a monumental project that is currently working through its first two phases. The goal of these revisions? A “safer, more modern corridor that serves South Carolina’s residents, businesses and visitors.”

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The first two phases of the project – major enhancements to Interstate 126 and Interstate 20 – have been underway for several years and are nearing completion, according to Klauk. The Interstate 126 enhancements – which include a new interchange at Colonial Life Boulevard – are scheduled to be completed this year. Meanwhile the Interstate 20 improvements – which include a new interchange at Broad River Road – are scheduled to be completed by 2025.

Originally expected to cost $1.6 billion, agency officials have acknowledged “inflationary pressure” was likely to drive up the final tab for the project – but they have yet to unveil a new number.

According to Klauk, this design-build behemoth is slowly working its way toward the epicenter of the congestion – the infamous “Malfunction Junction.” This hopelessly clogged transportation artery – which includes two major interchanges located just under 4,000 feet from each other – has been a bottleneck for decades.

Un-clustering this clusterf*ck will involve a five-step process … beginning with the relocation of utilities and frontage roads surrounding the interchanges. This process is already underway, accompanied by the clearing and grubbing of approximately 270 acres of land surrounding the interchanges (the second step). This second step of the project will be bid in the fall of this year with work expected to commence later this year or in early 2025.

(Click to View)

(FITSNews/ YouTube)

The third step of the final phase is “bridge-heavy,” according to Klauk. It will involve replacing the spans which carry Interstate 20 over the Saluda River in Lexington County as well as the two bridges carrying the highway across a CSX rail line. The project will also include widening Interstate 20 to its “ultimate lane configuration” from U.S. Highway 378 to Bush River Road – which is approximately two-thirds of a mile southwest of Malfunction Junction.

The timeline for this step of the project has bids going out this spring with construction beginning in 2025 or 2026.

The next step of the project will put construction crews in the guts of “Malfunction Junction” – specifically the confluence of Interstates 26 and 126, which is located approximately four miles northwest of the state capital of Columbia, S.C. In addition to widening Interstate 26, this step calls for new bridges to carry the thoroughfare over the Saluda River, the CSX rail line and a realigned eastbound lane of Interstate 126.

Bids for this part of the project will go out in the first quarter of 2025 with construction beginning in 2026 or 2027.

The final step? Replacing the outdated cloverleaf interchange that connects Interstates 20 and 26. SCDOT officials do not have a bid date associated with this part of the project – although they expect construction to commence in 2028 or early 2029.

Here is a look at the full “program re-phasing” as envisioned by SCDOT …

(Click to View)

SCDOT Carolina Crossroads updated construction schedule. (SCDOT)

Our media outlet has been covering this project since it began three-and-a-half years ago, chiding state leaders for waiting so long to address one of (if not the) most “notorious infrastructure bottlenecks” South Carolina has ever seen.

“During rush hour, the area turns into a parking lot,” I noted. “And during non-rush hour times, its confusing layout causes numerous accidents.”

While my media outlet has long-argued this project should have been undertaken “years ago,” I am glad to see it finally ramping up – although multiple other critical infrastructure needs (including the widening of both Interstate 95 in the Lowcountry/ Pee Dee and Interstate 85 in the Palmetto Upstate) remain unaddressed.

The reason? Politics.

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“During rush hour, the area turns into a parking lot …”

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For years, powerful legislative leaders have wielded dictatorial control over SCDOT spending priorities – placing pet projects and politically motivated “economic development” deals ahead of core infrastructure obligations. The result of this broken system? Projects backed by powerful political leaders consistently receive ample funding – even if the underlying “economic development” deals associated with them wind up collapsing.

Indeed, efforts to properly prioritize infrastructure dollars toward more pressing needs have been explicitly rejected by the status quo …

This week, SCDOT announced (.pdf) its plans to host an open house meeting for members of the community about the next steps in the project. That meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 9, 2024 at the Dutch Square Center located at 421 Bush River Road. 

Count on this media outlet to attend that meeting and keep our audience in the loop on the latest developments related to this project and the Palmetto State’s ongoing efforts to catch up on its priority highway needs.

More importantly, count on us to hold those in power accountable when they blow your money on non-essential spending while leaving core functions to wither on the vine … which seems to be something of a trend in Columbia.

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THE PLAN …

(SCDOT)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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