Improvements expected for busy I-526 corridor

VIDEO: Improvements expected for busy I-526 corridor
Estimated project schedule (Source: Live 5)
Estimated project schedule (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A new project will help improve some of the issues along one of Charleston's busiest highways.

The Department of Transportation's entitled 526 Lowcountry Corridor project, looks to reduce congestion, improve traffic conditions and enhance safety along an 8-mile stretch of the highway.

The project will look at the area from Rivers Avenue in North Charleston to Paul Cantrell Boulevard in West Ashley.

Those who travel I-526 are used to sitting in some sort of traffic every day.

With more than 40 people moving to the Charleston area daily, more cars are going to be packing our roads.

"It's a nightmare," said Ron D'Agostino, of Mt. Pleasant. "It's so packed with traffic and wrecks."

"This is one of the most congested networks of roads in the state," said SCDOT project manager Joy Riley, P.E.

One of the top priorities in this project is the I-526, I-26 interchange.

"It's really bad," said Sylvia Ammann. "It's an opportunity for a car accident."

"We'll definitely be improving that interchange, because there are a lot of merging operations there," Riley said. "We have a lot of issues there."

Riley added the other interchanges along the corridor will also be monitored.

While the project is still in the early phases, the ball is already rolling to get a plan in place.

"Right now they're out there doing the information gathering," she said. "So delineating the wet lands, going out there and doings species inventories, and investigations and things like that."

DOT needs community input though to figure out what drivers would like to see improved.

"Maybe widening the road in some places," Ammann said.

"The widening is pretty simple," Riley said. "We would probably try to widen to the inside. That's usually our first approach. We want to minimize the impacts."

Since July the group has been meeting with local communities along the corridor of the highway that will be affected.

Meetings will be held in West Ashley during October, with a virtual public meeting set for October 31.

The estimated time line for the project has the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) portion running from January 2016 to early 2019. This includes environmental reviews and public involvements.

Alternative development is projects from mid-2016 to mid-2020; Right-of-way and final design projected for mid-2019 to early-2022; Construction projected by mid-2020.

"This is a very challenging project," Riley said. "There are so many structures out there, a lot of bridge structures out there. Obviously in this coastal region we have a lot of environmental considerations that we have to keep in focus. Just the amount of traffic we have there and trying to maintain traffic and facilitate construction, and meet expectations of people of trying to get it done as fast as possible."

Riley said SCDOT has money allocated within the statewide transportation improvement plan for this project. $25 million is set aside for preliminary engineering and some design work. Roughly $444 million is set for construction.

"I think it will probably cost more than that," Riley said. "It really just depends on the level of improvements once we get further along and pick those preferred alternatives."

To provide suggestions for improvement along the corridor click here.

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