For the next four years, traffic along Interstate 85 in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties will be marked by reconstruction and snarling traffic.
However, the 21-mile widening project is all in the name of economic development, said Allen Smith, president of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
“This is an important project for Spartanburg County and the entire Upstate,” Smith said. “Spartanburg has become the Upstate’s leader in economic development in large part because of our transportation infrastructure, including two interstates, a recently expanded passenger and international cargo airport, terrific rail access, the inland port and a top-flight general aviation airport.”
The $485 million project is second only to the Cooper River Bridge project in Charleston in its cost for the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Josh Glunt, project engineer, said the corridor is key in terms of transporting goods to and from the Southeast as well as moving potential customers and tourists through the region. Glunt is with Infrastructure Consulting & Engineering, the firm teaming with KCI Technologies on the I-85 project.
Glunt said the latest traffic count indicates approximately 59,000 vehicles traveling daily on just the first four miles of the project. He said that number is expected to reach more than 87,000 daily by 2040.
“I-85 is one of the fastest growing corridors in the U.S.,” Glunt said. “There is a significant need, even from a commerce standpoint, that will safely get you from Greenville to Charlotte and Charlotte to Atlanta.”
The widening project includes 126 lane miles of road to be built on the interstate alone. Around 14 to 15 miles of the project include adding an extra lane north- and southbound.
“There isn’t a stretch of this road, even to Alabama, that doesn’t need to be six lanes,” Glunt said.
Another significant part of the project is fixing off-ramps that connect frontage roads to the interstate, also called slip ramps. Shane Parris, construction engineer for the S.C. DOT, said those ramps are dangerous and don’t have enough room for traffic to move on and off the interstate.
“Those really don’t meet our standards today,” Parris said. “We also have two-way traffic on our on- and off-ramps to I-85, which means there is traffic that goes both ways leading to the frontage road . . . We are moving the frontage road entrances away.”
Construction will also focus on a section of southbound I-85 that was originally built alongside U.S. Highway 29 after it was relocated in the 1950s and ‘60s. That stretch of roadway has not been maintained to current interstate standards, according to Glunt. He said there are long stretches of the interstate where some parts are higher in elevation than others.
“There are some substandard geometric conditions, that’s for sure,” Glunt said.
Upon completion, Glunt said the 21 miles will be safer for travel and should improve the overall traffic flow between Spartanburg and North Carolina.
Smith said that while improving safety is a big issue, giving businesses a better roadway to move product will be a major benefit.
“An interstate improvement project of this magnitude that will help ensure Spartanburg businesses will continue to have an advantage getting their world-class products to market, while also helping customers more easily reach their base of operations, is a huge win,” Smith said.