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Infrastructure Bank learns about SC road projects

Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- State Department of Transportation officials Wednesday presented the details of seven interstate widening projects for about $1.7 billion to the board that loans money for major road projects, hoping to get the funding to complete them all in the next 10 years or so.

The DOT will finalize the list at a meeting later this month, and the State Infrastructure Bank plans to take it to ask for up to $500 million in bonds. If the money comes through, the bank could make its final decision on the South Carolina projects in October, clearing the way for work to begin.

Three of the projects involve Interstate 85 in the Upstate, including improvements to the interchange with I-385 that are just waiting for money to begin. Three of the projects are in the Midlands, widening I-20 in Lexington County, I-26 northwest of Columbia and I-77 northeast of Columbia. The seventh project would widen all of I-526 in the Lowcountry.

The State Infrastructure Bank seems receptive to the projects.

"Let's start laying concrete as soon as possible," bank board chairman Don Leonard said.

The DOT wants to use the Infrastructure Bank's money along with part of up to $1 billion of additional money for roads approved by lawmakers this year to create a cascade of money for the projects. The extra money that would have gone into the I-85 and I-385 interchange can then be moved to the other projects. The goal is to start construction on the seven projects by 2019, with all wrapping up roughly in 2024, said Ron Patton. Chief Engineer for Planning, Location and Design for DOT.

"Let's show the public we're doing something with the money," Patton said.

One major project not on the list is untangling the I-26 interchange with I-20 near Columbia. Engineers will try a small improvement to the interchange with the I-26 widening by creating an express lane that will shuffle traffic from I-126 past the interchange and farther up I-26 west. But fixing the entire interchange would cost almost all the money the bank has to loan, Patton said.

"The dollar figure was beyond our ability to fund," said Patton, who said the DOT is trying to come up with other solutions, like perhaps doing the interchange work in phases.

The projects on DOT's list are:

— Improving the I-85 and I--385 interchange and widening I-385 in the area to six lanes at $240 million

— Widening 5 miles of I-26 to eight lanes west of I-20 in Columbia at $90 million

— Improving 25 miles of the six-lane portion of I-85 in Greenville and Spartanburg counties at $241 million. Patton said widening the road to eight lanes would triple the cost.

— Widening 19 miles of I-526 to six lanes near Charleston at $534 million

— Widening 10 miles of I-20 to six lanes in Lexington County at $155 million

— Widening 3 miles I-77 to six lanes between I-20 and South Carolina Highway 277 in Richland County at $39 million

— Widening 28 miles of I-85 to six lanes in Cherokee County at $425 million.