We’re counting down the biggest traffic headaches in Lexington County. Here’s No. 5

Chapin traffic: 'Could be virtually gridlocked'

Two major roads in and out of Chapin, SC are the only choice for residents.
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Two major roads in and out of Chapin, SC are the only choice for residents.

Editor’s note: The State this week is looking at the five worst traffic headaches in Lexington County. Today is No. 5: Columbia Avenue in Chapin. We’re not including in this series Columbia’s infamous Malfunction Junction — the merger of I-26, I-20 and I-126 — because state transportation officials are preparing to start work next year on fixing that area.

The problem

Adam Phelps considers traffic congestion on Columbia Avenue in Chapin part of living on nearby Lake Murray.

“It does get backed up,” he said of his commute on the main thoroughfare through town en route to his insurance agency in St. Andrews. “But it’s not so bad that it drives you crazy.”

Columbia Avenue is the connection to I-26 for Phelps and others who travel to and from the area for work, shopping and entertainment. Nearly 14,000 vehicles traveled the road each day in 2016, an increase of 2,000 since 2006, state traffic counts say.

Congestion is likely to increase. Plans call for new neighborhoods and a new elementary school in and around town. Builders are looking at adding 1,400 homes over the next decade, with the school tentatively slated to open in as soon as five years.

Bottlenecks already are common on the 2.5-mile stretch of the road at railroad tracks in the center of town and around Chapin High School, mainly at rush hours but also sporadically at other times.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s harder and harder to get around town,” said Steve Wall, owner of The Tipsy Toad Tavern in the center of town. “If we don’t do this soon, our community could be virtually gridlocked.”

What’s been done

Much of the improvements wanted are up to state transportation officials who oversee the roads. After nearly two decades of discussion and planning, major changes are coming to improve the flow of traffic through the town of 1,700 residents that is the hub of an area home to 60,000.

The fix planned

Construction is set to start next fall on a pair of improvements:

▪ A new interchange at I-26 with longer entrance and exit ramps designed to take more traffic off Columbia Avenue and reduce back-ups. It’s a $17.1 million project that is part of a package of renovations on a 16-mile stretch of I-26 due to be done by 2023. State officials are finalizing the design of that project, so it’s unclear when work on the Chapin interchange will start and end. “It’ll clear up things around the interchange,” said Michael Hood, a state traffic engineer.

▪ A separate package of improvements will widen Columbia Avenue from three to five lanes. Also, a four-lane bypass will be built off Columbia Avenue to Amicks Ferry Road. The Columbia Avenue widening and the bypass construction — expected to cost a total of $43 million project — are scheduled to be finished by late 2020 and should ease congestion significantly on narrow roads leading to I-26, state officials say.

Town leaders support all the changes, saying travel promises to be faster and safer.

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483