Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) - The Town of Chapin Planning Commission held its specially called session Tuesday afternoon to once again give the public the opportunity to receive information on the I-26 widening and the Columbia Avenue (S-48) project. The two-part project involves the SCDOT in the I-26 widening project and Lexington County and their project consultant Mead & Hunt on the Columbia Avenue project. The meeting was requested by the mayor of Chapin and orchestrated by the planning commission to make absolutely clear to anyone in the community how those projects can affect their lives. Both projects have similar goals. They are to increase the capacity of the roads, decrease traffic congestion and delays, and increase safety by decreasing accidents during peak travel times.
Over the many years that these projects have been under development, a great deal of time and money have been spent in order to comply with all federal, state and local standards. They also considered protecting as many property owner rights as possible and preserving the character of Chapin and surrounding areas. Many things have been considered in a process that at one time had more than 30 different plans and solutions. As a baseline, even a “do nothing at all” option was considered; of course, anyone who has driven through Chapin at peak travel times knows that’s unacceptable.
During the process of seeking the best solution for the area’s traffic woes, there have been multiple opportunities for the public to comment. The county’s part of the design even changed somewhat after the last comment session in the winter of 2017. Now, the projects are finally getting close to the point that we could see some right-of-way be acquired toward the end of this year. By the spring or early summer of 2019, there could be the selection of a contractor for the design-build phases and dirt could finally begin to be moved in the winter of 2020. If all those timeline goals are met, the final project could be completed by 2025 at a total cost of approximately $530 million-dollars.
What does all this mean for the people that live, work and play in and around Chapin and beyond. First, I-26 would be widened from Broad River Road to the Peak exit to eight lanes. At each exit, the bridges would be replaced with newer, safer, redesigned interchanges. The one that would have the most impact on what’s already there would be at exit 97 or the Peak interchange. There, one store would have to be bought and demolished. From the Peak exit up through and to the Little Mountain exit, the interstate would be six lanes.
At Chapin, a new free flowing Divergent Diamond Interchange would replace the existing bridge at I-26. Incidentally, this is the preferred design at the Peak exit also. Columbia Avenue would change dramatically with more lanes going out past the high school where there would then be the opportunity to bypass the town if you’d like. This would be done on a new loop that would take you over to East Boundary, across Chapin Road, around behind the GIS property, over Old Lexington Highway, and finally out onto Amicks Ferry Road. According to the county engineers, this plan, known as version 9-A, would have the least impact on existing and planned commercial occupancies, still preserve as much of the character of old Chapin as possible, and have the least impact on property owners. This would also meet all the guidelines provided by every branch of the government with controls on such an undertaking. Remember, only the "do nothing at all plan" could guarantee that no homes, businesses, or property owners would be left as they are with no impact by the road changes. However, that option also 100% guarantees that the traffic problems, including dangerous or even deadly accidents, would just get worse and worse in the years to come.
With Planning Commission Chairman Kevin Shepperd in control of the meeting Tuesday, the other members and the public had the opportunity to ask some questions regarding the project. While all weren’t happy about the prospects or the changes, most agreed that something new needed to be done. One store owner near the interstate felt the changes would adversely impact his business but the SCDOT representatives said if it did, he would be fairly compensated during the right-of-way acquisition phase. After the formal meeting was gaveled closed, small “break out” sessions were held and everyone who had a question or comment got the opportunity to speak to the agency officials and make their likes and dislikes known.
As the last of the members of the public and the project officials began to leave, Chapin’s Mayor David Knight said he was happy with the way the meeting went. “My goal was to make sure that everyone at least knew what was being planned, and I think that today’s meeting accomplished that goal. Everyone has had several opportunities now to learn about the project and the men who were in charge have let people know how to get in touch with them if they have any other questions.”