Construction began in 2017, and the eight-year project is expected to conclude by the end of 2025. Aiming to address the growing demands of the transportation corridor spanning from Montgomery, Alabama, to Petersburg, Virginia, the project involves widening the four-lane northern section of I-85. The existing I-85 in Spartanburg to the south is already six lanes.
The average daily traffic on this section of I-85 is approximately 60,000, with that number expected to reach 85,000 by 2027. Truck traffic accounts for approximately 40 percent of the vehicles. Since the project area is already experiencing congestion, SCDOT determined that the expansion was necessary.
After the expansion, I-85 will be a six-lane highway. Besides widening the interstate from four to six lanes, the team is replacing the existing asphalt on the current lanes. The project also involves the construction of eight interchanges and replacing two railroad bridges.
In response to this development, SCDOT created a second contract and hired a separate team. The state determined that having a second team, along with the employment of the design-build method, would help the project progress more quickly.
District 4 Design-Build Engineer Shane Parris has been with the project since the beginning and is serving as the Project Manager for SCDOT. “We’ve gotten to the point where we know each other and what to expect when we move down the road,” Parris said. “We appreciate the ability of the contractors to maintain key personnel throughout the duration of this project. That has helped support the success of the planning, scheduling, and staging of the project.”
The general contractor for the first team is a joint venture between Blythe Construction, Inc., and Zachry Construction Corp. (BZJV). Lane Construction is serving as the contractor for the second team.
All of the contractors have worked with SCDOT previously. "They were selected based on their statement of qualifications and were scored on their experience with personnel,” Parris said. The general contracting teams have a range of responsibilities beyond construction and design, including obtaining permits, acquiring right-of-way, and coordinating utility relocation. SCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are conducting oversight.
BZJV is working from mile marker 77 to mile marker 98. Their scope includes the reconstruction of four interchanges and the rehabilitation of four existing ramps for exits at mile markers 78, 80, 90, and 92. Their purview also includes construction of a new CSX railroad bridge.
Lane’s portion of the project begins at mile marker 98 and runs to the North Carolina state line, an 8-mile stretch. Similar to BZJV, they are responsible for reconstructing four interchanges. There are no existing ramps that require work. The team is replacing the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge.
To ensure the partnership continues to flourish, SCDOT is in regular contact with the general contractor and the other key stakeholders. “We have regular bi-weekly construction meetings and bi-yearly executive meetings to make sure everyone is on the same path,” Parris said. These meetings include discussions about safety, utility relocations, construction submittals, scheduling, and quality control.
Maintaining traffic is more challenging than typical highway traffic on I-85 due to significant grade changes, according to Parris. New lanes are being constructed using 13 inches of concrete, and traffic must be protected from this significant change in grade. There is also minimal room for construction.
The team has moved traffic according to the standard, shifting it from side to side depending on where construction was occurring. The contractors are responsible for keeping the general public informed about the progress of the project as well as the lane switches. SCDOT also announces traffic shifts on its website and social media.
Lane shifts tend to lead to an increase in accidents. To maintain safety, the team has posted additional signage in the area, reduced speed limits, and employed an off-duty law enforcement team. The purpose is to get drivers to slow down and stay away from texting while driving.
Improving interstate connectivity is one of SCDOT’s priorities. “SCDOT has a 10-year plan to improve connectivity, and we’re in year seven," said Kelly Moore, Director of Public Engagement and Senior Advisor to the Secretary for SCDOT. “One of the focuses of the 10-year plan includes connectivity in the more rural parts of the state. We want to improve economic prosperity for all, and we are seeing good progress overall on the plan.”
The construction budget for the project is $480 million. Utility work was added to the project scope due to state law, and it is expected to be the main culprit in driving up the costs by 5 percent. SCDOT’s decision to hire off-duty law enforcement to slow traffic is another added expense.
The project is being funded by the federal and state governments via the traditional 80/20 split. The state raised part of its share through the passage of the 2017 South Carolina roads bill.
Lane, which began construction in 2019, completed the widening of their portion of I-85 in December 2022. “It was huge to open the eight miles of I-95 up north,” Parris said. He added that the widening has enabled traffic to flow more efficiently and safely. The completed section is also drawing positive responses from commuters.
The next milestone the team is focused on is opening 11 miles between mile marker 80 in Spartanburg and mile marker 90 in Gaffney in the summer of 2024. Parris said he is confident that the team is up to the challenge as the contractor is on schedule. When the entire project is complete, commuters will have a safer and more reliable commute and I-85 will be able to handle the projected growth in traffic.
- Owner: South Carolina Department of Transportation
- General Contractors: Blythe Construction, Inc., Charlotte, North Carolina; Zachry Construction Corp., San Antonio, Texas; Lane Construction, Cheshire, Connecticut
- Engineer: Michael Baker International, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania