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SCDOT holds meeting in Chapin to allow public comment on Chapin road improvements

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – The SCDOT and officials from Lexington County held a public meeting Tuesday night to allow for the public to comment on proposed changes and improvements to the roads in and around the Chapin area. The meeting was held at the Our Lady of The Lake Catholic Church on Amick’s Ferry Road.

Officials have known for some time that the roads in the fast-growing community needed to be improved. The original traffic accommodations were meant for a mostly rural area which Chapin has not been for quite some time.

The improvements to that area’s roads would be funded and overseen by a partnership between the state and Lexington County. Lexington County has a huge vested interest in alleviating the traffic problems because so many of its taxpaying citizens spend huge amounts of time sitting in traffic in the area. They also have a new technology park within a short distance from the interstate interchange and snarled traffic could sway firms from going into that park.

After conducting up-to-date traffic counts and studying the traffic in the area, DOT officials, along with engineers from Lexington County and Mead & Hunt, a private engineering firm that specializes in the design of projects such as this and works with government agencies, came up with a number of options for improving the situation. After this was done, one of the options was selected as the front-runner by the entities working on the project.

The option most favored would widen Columbia Avenue (S-48) from the interstate past the Chapin High School to a location where a new Chapin bypass would begin. This is close to the entrance of Ellet Brothers and the SCE&G maintenance depot at what is now the office of Smith Engineering.

That new bypass and connector that would begin just northwest of Chapin High School would funnel traffic off Columbia Avenue before it reached the older part of the heart of the town. This new bypass would connect to Chapin Road at Weisz Street near what has recently been a used car lot.

On Chapin Road, the bypass’s traffic would proceed west on a new parkway around the GIS’s business property before merging with an improved Clark Street to connect with Lexington Avenue at the original location of the Chapin United Methodist Church building, the small brick church that now houses the Christ Church and House of Prayer. The road would continue behind the Chapin Crossing property, home to the new Publix, and end at a new intersection with Amick’s Ferry Road, a road that feeds into many of the Lake Murray neighborhoods including Timberlake Plantation.

Through the heart of the town and out to the intersection of Chapin and Amick’s Ferry Roads some minor aesthetic improvements would be made. For the most part, it would remain the same to ensure that the established businesses and homes weren’t disturbed or negatively impacted.

The widening of the portion of Columbia Avenue from the interstate to the new southern bypass would require some right-of-way acquisition but would not seriously disturb most homes and businesses in that area. That includes the rock wall at the Mt. Horeb cemetery near the intersection of East Boundary Street and Columbia Avenue, a well-known landmark that has been around since the depression.

The widened Columbia Avenue would be what’s known as a 5-lane urban sector. This includes 2 lanes outbound, 2 lanes in-bound, and a center landscaped median.

At the intersection of Columbia Avenue and I-26, a new divergent-diamond interchange would be constructed that would allow traffic entering and exiting the interstate to flow more freely. Currently, traffic exiting the interstate from either direction must come to a complete stop after exiting.

In total, the proposed changes would require the SCDOT to purchase 23 acres of land for the new improvements right-of-way. Two properties would need to be completely taken.

These properties include a portion on Columbia Avenue near the high school where the bypass would start. That property is owned by engineer Ed Smith and his wife.

The other property that would need to be acquired is the Caroline Shealy building at Weisz Street and Chapin Road. County records currently show it being held as a part of a life estate of Caroline Shealy.

When the property acquisition starts, the owners of these properties would be offered fair market value for their land and the could negotiate the sale from that point. If no agreement is reached, the property’s owners would have the right to take the state to court for more money. This could delay the project.

On Tuesday night, only two people asked to speak regarding the proposed project, Dan Smith of Smith engineering, and Keith Grimaud, owner of Chapin Furniture. Both business properties would be affected by the new project and road improvements.

Dan Smith of Smith Engineering said that he bought his property where the Chapin bypass would begin first as an investment property and then as a place to move his business, which he has now done. He doesn’t feel that the government will ever give him what he feels his property is worth when they buy it. He was also concerned about a huge Red Oak tree that is more than one hundred years old.

Smith said that he believes that the workmen that built the rock wall at the cemetery across the street during the depression probably crossed the street to eat their lunches under this beautiful and majestic tree. Smith lamented its loss in the name of progress.

Keith Grimaud of Chapin Furniture was most concerned about how the new interstate interchange would affect the entrance and signage to his business, Chapin Furniture. He had more question than negative comments.

Grimaud wanted to know what accommodations would be made for signs that would direct customers to his business once the interchange was built. He also had questions about how the improvements might alter his entrance and if the changes would hamper the business’s ingress and egress.

Both of these men were well under the time allotted to them by the DOT. After all, this was a time for comment only; there will need to be a period where negotiations to buy land will take place. It remains to be seen whether these issues can be addressed in an amicable fashion or if litigation might stall the project’s start.

There is also a project in development that would widen I-26 from the 85-mile marker to the 101 at Broad River Road near Irmo. Although this is also integral to reliving traffic congestion in the Chapin area, it is a separate project and was not discussed on Tuesday night.

No exact time table for the projects start or finish has been released. Several factors make in imperative that it begin sooner than later.

For the most part, the standing room crowd was inquisitive but certainly not hostile or confrontational. It was clear that the majority of the crowd was ready, most having spent many hours in traffic going to and from work or dealing with daily travels. Those people are clearly ready for some relief.

Additional information regarding this work may be obtained by contacting the project manager with Lexington County Project Manager Jeff McNesby at (803) 785-8593. You can also find all documents related to the project at www.scdot.org.

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