Widening of I-26 could start as early as June

The S.C. Department of Transportation plans to embark on a $66 million project to widen the 4-mile stretch of Interstate 26 between Interstate 526 and Ashley Phosphate Road in North Charleston. Officials say the project could begin as early as late June. The bad news: It will take three years to do the work, which means relief won't get here until 2011. The Post and Courier reports:

It's expected to take three years and three months, so by late 2011 the bottleneck at the merge of I-526 and I-26 should be a memory.

"At rush hour you are talking bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go traffic," state Department of Transportation district construction engineer Tim Henderson said of current conditions. "This will improve capacity of the highway and improve safety at the interchanges."

The Post and Courier article also includes some interesting traffic figures for that portion of Interstate 26:

The traffic count on I-26 between Remount Road and the Mark Clark Expressway is 140,800, based on 2007 figures, said Tammy Stoneburner with the state DOT.

A six-lane road's maximum capacity before failure is 117,800 vehicles per day, said Tony Sheppard, a state DOT traffic engineer. Adding an additional lane will bring the capacity of I-26 along that stretch to 157,000 vehicles per day, he said.

So does this mean that the current traffic levels for that area are tens of thousands beyond what is considered by the DOT to be maximum capacity? There's no mention in the story of what is considered maximum capacity for an eight-lane road, though one would hope it is much higher than 160,000 if they want this to be any sort of real long-term solution.

In a September 2007 story in The Post and Courier, it was reported that traffic congestion in Charleston was listed as worst in the nation among small metro areas, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. That article goes on to discuss strategies for coping with traffic congestion in the Lowcountry, and it's definitely worth a read.

A motorist interviewed by the Post and Courier for the I-26 story had a different suggestion for dealing with the traffic problem:

(Tricia) Melton said the road widening will help, at least in the short term despite the traffic delays that motorists most likely will encounter, but the occupational therapist hopes to be riding the bus by the time construction starts.

"It sounds like a good idea and it will accommodate more traffic, but on the flip side, if you build it, they will come," she said. "It's a Band-Aid. The solution is mass transit."

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