COLUMBUS — A major highway crossroads affecting traffic between Western North Carolina and areas including Charlotte and Columbia, S.C., appears to be on its way to a long-planned overhaul.
The N.C. Department of Transportation’s nearly $16 million plan to revamp the interchange of Interstate 26 and U.S. 74 in Polk County received a public hearing on Tuesday at Isothermal Community College’s campus in Columbus.
The construction project, which has been in the planning stages for years, according to transportation officials, is scheduled to begin in September and end a year later in September 2018.
DOT officials at the meeting said part of the impetus to finish the project quickly is the FEI Equestrian Games, which will be at the Tryon International Equestrian Center the same month they’ve scheduled the project to be completed.
The plan for the interchange, which is essentially finalized according to NCDOT officials, would create a direct connection between the two major routes. According to an NCDOT handout, the current traffic pattern forces vehicles, including “a high volume of tractor-trailer trucks” that “mixes with local traffic,” to exit the highway and travel through roundabouts on N.C. 108 before entering either U.S. 74 or I-26.
The state is proposing to repave a section of U.S. 74 that’s east of I-26, while also repaving both sides of the interstate where it crosses under N.C. 108.
DOT will have new connectors constructed between westbound I-26 and eastbound U.S. 74 and westbound U.S. 74 and eastbound I-26.
The plan also calls for a realignment of Horse Creek, which runs parallel to the interstate. This will include construction of a new culvert underneath two of the newly constructed lanes.
The bulk of the work will be performed in the existing right of way, though the state does have to acquire two parcels of land on the west side of N.C. 108 to allow for the construction of a new lane connecting that road and U.S. 74. The state has estimated that acquisition would cost $130,000, and plans to begin purchasing the parcels in July.
According to documents provided at the meeting, the state will finalize the project design in June and then start construction in September.