COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – The South Carolina Department of Transportation may soon receive the funding it needs to expand a stretch of I-26 from Charleston to Columbia.

Governor Henry McMaster was joined by SCDOT Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall to announce a proposal to use $360 million from the American Rescue Plan to speed up the widening of I-26 between Charleston and the state capitol.

“Everywhere you look, South Carolina is growing,” said Gov. McMaster. “Businesses are moving here, businesses are expanding here, and businesses are starting there – more and more people are visiting our state; we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of goods and products flowing through the Port of Charleston and we’ve seen the corresponding increase in traffic and delays on our roads and highways.”

As such, Gov. McMaster said SCDOT has long identified the widening of I-26 as one of its highest priorities. This one-time investment, they say, will help the department accelerate its planned widening project by six years.

Hall said the previous plan was to stretch the 30 miles of widening work out in many phases through 2029/30 based on cash flows.

“Instead of starting the project in the next 10 years, we are anticipating being able to complete the project within the next ten years,” said Hall. Thanks to the funding, the bulk of the widening will to go to contract over the next 3-4 years.

“Anybody that drives this area or is familiar with this area knows that this section of I-26 experiences congestion, delays, and frequent accidents on a routine basis,” said Secretary Hall. “It can take hours to travel through this area versus normal travel speeds.”

The project will tackle the widening of South Carolina’s longest interstate from both ends – working from the Columbia end towards Charleston and working on the Charleston end towards Columbia collectively.

In just the last decade, statewide traffic has increased by nearly 30% with I-26 between Columbia and Charleston carrying more than 22 million vehicles per year.

“The connection from the Midlands hub of South Carolina to the port of Charleston is absolutely critical and crucial to our continued prosperity in South Carolina,” said Hall. “A widening project is needed now.”

Secretary Hall says the first phase of the project is slated to begin next year and then two subsequent phases on each end by 2023. Construction will continue in sequences after that until completed.

She said the department has been working on the design and planning for the project. She said once the money becomes available, they will be ready to begin.

Local officials agree the project is needed to improve infrastructure and safety along the busy corridor.

“And it really opens up more opportunity,” says Daniel Brock, a Regional Strategist with the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Government.

The project will start with a 7 mile section near Charleston. Additional portions of construction will go out for bid in the following years. Local leaders say it should attract more business.

“This will add just another piece of the puzzle that will entice them to be here,” says Brock.

When complete, officials hope a wider I-26 from Charleston to Columbia moving the state forward.

“So I just find this amazing and we’re so very thankful for this,” says Elaine Morgan, CEO of the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s the front door to Charleston and the Lowcountry and now it’s going to be a much safer and more pleasant experience,” says Brock.

State transportation officials say the project will accelerate expansion efforts by 6 years along the corridor. The first phase is set to take place between Jedburg Road and SC-27 starting in 2022.

Gov. McMaster’s office says one eligible use of ARPA funds is the replacement of lost revenue a state experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They say South Carolina experienced $453 million in revenue loss and the governor is recommending that $360 million of it be used for this project.

This investment will be included in the governor’s final recommendations to the General Assembly on how ARPA funds should be invested in the state.