Interstate 26 in South Carolina
Interstate 26 or I -26 is an Interstate Highway in the U.S. state of South Carolina. I-26 forms a diagonal route across the state and runs more north-south than east-west, from the North Carolina border at Landrum through Spartanburg and Columbia to Charleston. This makes it the main highway for traffic within South Carolina. I-26 is 356 kilometers long in South Carolina.
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Northern South Carolina
I-26 at the intersection with I-385 at Clinton.
I-26 at Charleston.
Interstate 26 in North Carolina comes from the town of Asheville and crosses the border into South Carolina at Landrum. I-26 also leaves the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains at this point. I-26 has 2×2 lanes and after 30 kilometers reaches the city of Spartanburg, where it follows an interchange with Interstate 85. I-26 runs along the west side of Spartanburg and then heads south through a rural area that becomes more densely forested.
At Clinton follows an interchange with Interstate 385 from Greenville. I-26 turns southeast at this point. This is followed by almost 100 kilometers through rural areas to the city of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. In the metropolitan area of Columbia, the highway has 2×3 lanes, later also 2×4 lanes. In Columbia, there is an interchange with Interstate 20, after which the highway exits shortly after and Interstate 126 continues straight into downtown Columbia.
I-26 then runs 2×3 lanes through western and southern Columbia. At the south end of the city follows an interchange with the southern terminus of Interstate 77. I-26 then has 2×3 lanes for a short while and then narrows again to 2×2 lanes. Between Columbia and Charleston follows a 150-mile stretch through rural areas with dense forests. After Orangeburg there is a junction with Interstate 95. I-26 then enters the coastal plain.
Interstate 26 runs for another 30 kilometers through the Charleston metropolitan area at the end. The highway here largely has 2×3 lanes. To the north of Charleston, it follows an interchange with Interstate 526, which forms the city’s bypass. I-26 then crosses the peninsula on which Charleston is located. At the center of town, I-26 ends at US 17.
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I-26 was planned as an east-west route, but it actually runs more north-south. This different location in the grid meant that the highway was preceded by a series of US Highways. Between the border with North Carolina and Spartanburg, US 176 was the through route. Between Spartanburg and Columbia these were US 221 and US 76. Several US Highways ran between Columbia and Charleston, including US 176 and the combination of US 21 and US 178 via Orangeburg. Due to the rapid construction of I-26, no stretches of these US Highways had already been widened to 2×2 lanes outside the cities.
At the time, South Carolina was still a relatively rural state with a population of just over 2 million. The capital Columbia had 100,000 inhabitants at the time, the urban area had about 200,000 inhabitants at the time. Charleston was a historic port city but was also relatively small at the time, with a population of 60,000 in 1960. Nevertheless, these were the most important cities in the state.
I-26 was one of South Carolina’s first highways to be completed, as it is the state’s major Interstate Highway, connecting the four largest cities. Because of this importance, I-26 was built at a rapid pace, faster than in many other states. On September 7, 1960, the first section between Columbia and US 176 opened for 12 miles. The highway opened at a rapid pace throughout the 1960s, and by March 10, 1969, the entirety of I-26 was completed in the state.
I-26 along the town of Spartanburg has undergone little modification since opening. In 1995, a new interchange opened with realigned Interstate 85 on the north side of Spartanburg. This interchange is much more modern than the other connections around Spartanburg. In 2006 the connection with SC-296 (John B. White Sr. Boulevard) was changed to SPUI.
The route along Columbia was already widened to the current configuration before 1994. This part mainly has 2×3 lanes, but 2×4 lanes at the junction with I-20. This is also called the ‘Malfunction Junction’ because the simple cloverleaf without shunting lanes is not suitable for today’s traffic intensities. About 2002, two connections north of Columbia with US 176 and SC-60 were adapted into a parclo with 6 connecting roads.
Columbia – Charleston
I-26 between Columbia and Orangeburg.
Between 2013 and 2016, a 10-mile (10-mile) section of I-26 south of Columbia was widened from 2×2 to 2×3 lanes. It was a stretch from I-77 to Old Sandy Run Road near Gaston. A space reservation was available in the central reservation for this purpose. The project cost $99 million.
In Charleston, the highway south of the connector with US 52 already had 2×3 lanes before 1990. In 2011, this section was widened to 2×4 lanes by converting the existing paved median strip into a 4th lane. Presumably in the second half of the 1990s, I-26 was widened to 2×3 lanes in the suburbs, between Summerville/Sangaree and the US 52 connector.
In 2005, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opened at downtown Charleston. The southern end of I-26 has also been adapted, there was originally a cramped intersection with sharp bends at the end of I-26. This interchange was demolished after the new bridge opened, in its place a new interchange with US 17 has been constructed a little further north, giving access to the Ravenel Bridge.
In the north of Charleston, a large flyover interchange was built between 2017 and 2021 for SC Port Access Road, a new port area of Charleston. On February 24, 2021, this interchange and the 2-kilometer highway link between I-26 and the port terminal will be opened.
There are wishes to widen I-26 in its entirety to 2×3 lanes between Columbia and Charleston, two fast-growing cities. I-26 usually has a wide vegetated median strip. In 2018, the cost of the remainder was estimated at $1.8 billion. The widening was planned to be done in many phases, subject to funding availability, but in 2021 it was announced that a larger stretch of I-26 will be widened in a shorter time. In 2022 there was talk of a full widening between Columbia and Charleston by 2034.
The cloverleaf with I-95 is also sober, there are no shunting lanes along both I-26 and I-95, so that there are weaving movements from the loops directly to the main carriageways.
A 16-mile stretch between SC-202 at Little Mountain (Exit 85) and US 176 at Irmo (Exit 101) is planned to be widened to 2×3 lanes in central South Carolina.
The “Malfunction Junction” is a cloverleaf without shunting lanes between I-20 and I-26 in Columbia. It is planned to convert this node in due course, in 2013 money has been pledged for an exploration. This led to the ‘Carolina Crossroads’ study and includes I-26 between Broad River Road (US 176, Exit 101) and US 378 (Exit 110). The interchange with I-20 has several variants, including turbine shapes with a varying number of loops and direct connecting roads. Another alternative is that the current interchange will be canceled and the interchange between I-20, I-26 and I-126 will be moved all the way south on a new route. Combined with the I-26 approach, the cost is estimated at $1.6 billion. It is considered the highest priority project in South Carolina. The contract for the first phase was awarded on 12 May 2021. Construction formally began on November 8, 2021. The works will be completed in phases until mid-2029.
I-26 at Charleston.
I-26 can be used counterflow to evacuate the coastal region around Charleston. This is possible for 100 miles from Charleston to the I-77 interchange on the south side of Columbia. In counterflow, all lanes go inland for an evacuation of an approaching hurricane.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd threatened the South Carolina coast, and it was decided to evacuate the Charleston region. There was no proper counterflow script at the time, causing a traffic chaos, with the drive from Charleston to Columbia taking 14-18 hours, while normally it’s barely 2 hours. In 2016, counterflow was first deployed due to the approaching Hurricane Matthew. In 2018, counterflow was used due to the approaching Hurricane Florence and in 2019 due to the approaching Hurricane Dorian.
Every day, 26,000 vehicles drive on the border with the state of North Carolina, before rising to 43,000 vehicles just before Spartanburg. The passage from Spartanburg has a maximum of 61,000 vehicles per day, then decreases again to 25,000 vehicles per day south of Spartanburg. This rises to 39,000 vehicles after merging with I-385 at Clinton. This remains stable as far as the Columbia region, then rising rapidly after each connection to 138,000 vehicles per day for the interchange with I-20. The short stretch between I-20 and I-126 has 119,000 vehicles per day, after which 85,000 to 90,000 vehicles drive along the west side of Columbia.
South of I-77 at Columbia, there are 64,000 vehicles per day, dropping to 35,000 to 55,000 vehicles per day on the rural stretch between Columbia and Charleston, with the intensities at I-95 changing little. From Summerville, the intensities rise sharply, from 75,000 vehicles on the outskirts of the urban area to 166,000 vehicles immediately after the US 52 Connector. This is the busiest point of I-26 in South Carolina. The intensities then drop to 95,000 vehicles per day after the interchange with I-526 and 65,000 vehicles before the interchange with US 17 to Ravenel Bridge and on to the freeway terminus at downtown Charleston.
I-26 in northern South Carolina.
|exit 0||Exit 101||2×2|
|Exit 101||Exit 107||2×3||columbia|
|Exit 107||Exit 108||2×4||columbia|
|Exit 108||Exit 125||2×3||columbia|
|Exit 125||Exit 199||2×2|
|Exit 199||Exit 221||2×3||Charleston|