Eastward view of Interstate 126/U.S. 76 toward Downtown Columbia from the Greystone Boulevard overpass. 05/24/19
Interstate 126 parallels the Saluda River southeast from I-26 near the “Malfunction Junction” interchange with I-20, to a pair of a bridges spanning the Broad River. The freeway concludes at the U.S. 21-176-321 turn from Huger Street to Elmwood Avenue northwest of Downtown.
Doubling as U.S. 76 from I-26 east to Elmwood Avenue, Interstate 126 varies between six and eight lanes. There are no exit numbers along the urban freeway.
The eastern terminus of Interstate 126 transitions to Business Spur I-126 along Elmwood Avenue. Only signed once in the westbound direction, the 0.50 mile designation overlays U.S. 21, U.S. 76, U.S. 176 and U.S. 321 to S.C. 277 (Bull Street).
The Carolina Crossroads Project redesigns both the cloverleaf interchange (“Malfunction Junction”) joining I-20 and I-26 and the adjacent tie in with Interstate 126. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SDOT) was approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on May 2, 2019.1 The $1.5 billion overhaul addresses congestion and safety concerns associated with substandard design, weaving traffic patterns and left side ramps. Work involves 14 interstate miles, 12 interchanges along portions of I-20, I-26 and I-126.2
The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) considered several alternatives for the Carolina Crossroads project starting in 2015. Those included the I-20/126 East-West Connector which outlined extending Interstate 126 west to meet I-20 directly. The proposed Directional Interchange alternative would eliminate left side ramps south of Bush River Road and construct a new high speed exchange south of the Saluda River. The Bush River alternative retained the left exit ramps at I-26/126 while extending I-126 to the north of the Saluda River to a full interchange with I-20. The Direct Connector alternative also followed the north side of the Saluda River as it lengthened I-126 west to a wye interchange with I-20 while retaining the left exit ramps at I-26.
Ultimately the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) selected RA1 as the Selected Alternative for the Carolina Crossroads project. Among other changes, a turbine interchange will replace the cloverleaf at I-20/26. Collector distributor roadways will separate movements along I-26 between the exchange at I-20 and a rebuilt full-Y interchange with Interstate 126.
Construction on the first phase of road work was previously anticipated to start in 2019, with Phases II and III following in 2023 and 2027 respectively. The initial schedule outlined right of way acquisition throughout 2019 and construction commencing in 2020.
With cost increases to $1.7 billion, the Carolina Crossroads project finally broke ground during a ceremony held on November 8, 2021. With work partitioned into five phases, eight years of construction upgrades 14 miles of freeway along portions of I-20, I-26 and I-126.6