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‘Malfunction Junction’ fix might target 236 West Columbia-area homes

A Malfunction Junction improvement plan would destroy this neighborhood

The River's Edge is a West Columbia neighborhood overlooking the lower Saluda River. A Malfunction Junction improvement plan under consideration would obliterate the neighborhood to make way for those improvements.
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The River's Edge is a West Columbia neighborhood overlooking the lower Saluda River. A Malfunction Junction improvement plan under consideration would obliterate the neighborhood to make way for those improvements.

Reducing congestion at Columbia’s Malfunction Junction threatens to cost Lisa Sigler her retirement home overlooking the lower Saluda River.

Her home in a quiet enclave in West Columbia is among 236 in several neighborhoods that are in the path of a proposed bypass that would divert vehicles away from the intersection of I-20, I-26 and I-126. Traffic on that stretch of highway frequently backs up, and fender benders are all too common.

“It’s very scary to think we’ll have to pack up and leave,” said Sigler, a 60-year-old retired therapist.

All 45 homes in the River’s Edge neighborhood where Sigler lives could be obliterated if state transportation officials decide to build a new road linking the three interstates.

The road is among 49 options under consideration to ease the burden on a stretch of highways that state officials say has become a choke point for commuters and commerce.

Congested roadways and distracted drivers following too closely are reasons for most accidents on I-20 and I-26.

Fixing Malfunction Junction is the state’s top transportation goal. Improvements could cost as much as $1.5 billion and take up to 7 years to finish, according to preliminary estimates.

It’s playing catch-up on roads built in the 1960s and sporadically improved through 1997 as more neighborhoods and stores rose along the routes. Up to 133,600 vehicles a day travel through the intersection of the three interstates, traffic studies say.

State officials plan to unveil up to six possibilities for improving Malfunction Junction by late summer. Final plans are expected to be chosen next year, with work slated to start in 2019. It’s the most complex road project undertaken in South Carolina, officials say.

Some neighborhood leaders expect a link along the lower Saluda River to be in the plans released this summer.

“I have a sense that is a vital part of the entire project,” said Joel Merrill, president of the Quail Hollow Community Association. “You solve so many problems with that bypass.”

Four neighborhoods in and abutting West Columbia have joined with local lawmakers and city leaders in urging other routes be pursued.

Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler is concerned that the proposed road would create environmental problems on the river and adjoining wetlands. He also said the road could harm recreation on the river.

Fishing and paddling on the river as well as on an extension of the Three Rivers Greenway all face “serious damage,” he said.

Homeowners in the area are uneasy.

Interior designer Carla Brophy has stopped decorating her home because of a concern she would not recover the investment should her residence be designated for demolition. “I’m not doing anything, and it’s hurting my business,” she said.

Quail Hollow and adjoining neighborhoods behind Lexington Medical Center would be “decimated,” Merrill said.

His home is among those that would be torn down, but Merrill considers himself lucky. Those left would be in a neighborhood divided with no apparent connection, and the community swimming pool would be gone, he said.

Brophy, leader of the homeowners association in River’s Edge, knows the road improvements are necessary. But she is crossing her fingers that state officials decide plowing through the neighborhoods is too expensive and impractical.

Her wooded neighborhood overlooking the river is like living in the country even though it’s in the center of the Columbia area, she said.

“It’s an oasis that we don’t want to lose,” Brophy said.

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483

Other choices

Other proposals under consideration to fix Malfunction Junction:

▪  Widening nearby St. Andrews and Broad River roads to handle more vehicles.

▪  Building a connector road between I-26 in the Harbison area and I-77 near Blythewood

▪  Altering a dozen intersections so traffic gets on and leaves faster.

▪  Encouraging flexible work schedules and promoting bus and commuter rail use.

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