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Chapin town leaders approve funds for contract to study interchange and by-pass enhancements

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – Tuesday night, the mayor and town council of Chapin approved the allocation of $19,750 from its existing General Fund budget for a contract to provide professional engineering services and construction cost estimates for proposed aesthetic enhancements for the Chapin part of the I-26 widening project, the new bridge at the Chapin exit, and the Columbia Avenue Improvement Project and by-pass loop. In simpler terms, they have approved hiring the firm Lexington County is using for this project to come up with a price tag on making the new Chapin exit from I-26 and the Columbia Avenue project that would go past the high school and then bypass the congested business district, look nicer, be unique to Chapin, and actually make the project be more of a gateway to the town and area instead of just a bridge and some streets.

Several months ago, a team at the Town Hall started to consider the impacts of the entire project on the Chapin community. After hearing opposition to the new style of exit and bridge at the interstate, something called a Diverging Diamond Interchange, town employees took a trip to Cornelius, NC, to evaluate this type of interchange that’s been in use there for some time. To make the trip even more meaningful, Cornelius was a small town that exploded with growth rapidly like Chapin. It’s also close to a lake that draws homebuyers and people that enjoy its recreational opportunities. Once that group saw, drove over, and walked on the new interchange and bridge in NC, they saw the benefits of that SCDOT preferred design. During that trip, the group was also able to see and learn about certain enhancements that could be added to the interchange, bridge, and road that would make it look nicer, be unique to the community it serves, and be more welcoming than a standard transportation project.

The road improvements in Chapin are split into two parts. The interchange and access on and off the bridge are one project and will be managed by the SCDOT. The widening of Columbia Avenue and the bypass phase is being handled by Lexington County. After town employees and leaders met with SCDOT representatives, they learned that the bidding process used for the project is design-build. SCDOT will manage only one contract with a single point of responsibility. Thereafter, the designer and contractor work together from the beginning, as a team, providing unified project recommendations to fit SCDOT’s schedule and budget. This process is already underway.

Many of the enhancements the group found appealing in the Cornelius interchange were not included in the I-26 bridge redesign or the Columbia Avenue portion. These enhancements include nautical themed cables on the bridge that appear as sails on boats, improved landscaping on the road’s shoulders and medians, and more attractive traffic stop-arms, signals and signage. These all welcome travelers to the area, provide a grand gateway to the community, and make travelling or commuting daily more pleasurable.

Seeing firsthand the economic impact and community benefit these aesthetic features had in Cornelius, the team decided to see how much these things would cost and seek potential revenue sources to pay for them. They quickly realized that including these enhancements in the SCDOT construction project while underway would be much more cost effective than the Town trying to add them sometime later. Additional sources of money would have to be identified to cover the costs the Town would incur for these enhancements. The question then became, how much money were they talking about.

Chapin learned that a 60% rendering of the location had already been developed by Lexington County with the assistance of Lexington design firm Mead & Hunt. The project manager provided those documents to Chapin so they could create a cohesive, attractive look for the Chapin community when the construction is underway and complete.

Due to their current contract with Lexington County and their previous work on the widening project, Chapin leaders decided that Mead & Hunt would be able to provide Chapin with the best possible financial estimate and drawings of the Town’s proposed enhancements. Without those renderings to show people, it would be hard for them to understand the importance of adding the enhancements. This work is critical to the strategic planning necessary to obtain funding from outside sources like grants. While funding sources have not been identified, the team is evaluating all the Town’s options.

Since the council approved entering into the contract, the mayor is expected to sign it this week. No time table was given as to when Mead & Hunt would have a presentation and cost estimates ready.

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