Spot of good news: My neighborhood isn’t going to be demolished for a hyperspace bypass

Here’s the notice that was brought to my attention — not by the government, but by my daughter — on the last day of public comment.

Here’s the notice that was brought to my attention — not by the government, but by my daughter — on the last day of public comment.

So Donald Trump is still president, North Korea just fired a missile over Japan, and Harvey is still ripping up and flooding the Gulf Coast.

So, lots of bad news.

But at least there’s this:

The S.C. Department of Transportation has dropped a plan to build a bypass to unsnarl “Malfunction Junction” that would have caused up to 236 West Columbia homes to be razed.

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said he received a letter about the change from the department Tuesday morning.

“This is a tremendous victory for us,” he said. “And this was a community effort.”

The bypass was one of several options being considered by the DOT to alleviate congestion at the junction of I-20, I-26 and I-126. It would have diverted traffic away from the intersection, but the bypass also would have cut through several West Columbia neighborhoods including Quail Hollow and River’s Edge….

I live in Quail Hollow. And while the abandoned route might not have technically gone through my living room, it would have run behind the houses directly across the street from me, and would have blocked me from the only way out of my neighborhood other than swimming across the Saluda River.

It would have been the worst deal possible: My property value would have been destroyed, and I wouldn’t have gotten paid for it because they didn’t necessarily have to buy my house. And my peaceful, semi-sylvan neighborhood — deer sometimes wander onto our lot — would have become utter, roaring chaos, with an interstate directly in front of the house, less than 100 feet away (as near as I could tell from the wholly inadequate maps provided by DOT).

As you’ll recall, I learned about this plan on the last day of public comments last fall, after having received ZERO notification from the state that my neighborhood was potentially to be sacrificed to fix Malfunction Junction, a problem that has never bothered me even though it’s only about a mile from my house.

We found ourselves in a situation that was almost, but not quite, entirely like the one Arthur Dent faced in the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Did I ever tell you about the public meeting DOT finally held for my neighbors and me after we DID find out about it on that last day of public comment? Official after official claimed that we should have known sooner — after all, the plans had been on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.” More or less.

Finally, this one woman stood up and faced the truth, and admitted that yeah, they had screwed up big-time by not actually notifying us. Which was nice. I guess she had drawn the short straw on being the “good cop.”

Anyway, I want to thank my Senator, Nikki Setzler, and my representative, Micah Caskey (although Micah says modestly that it was really Nikki) for standing up and raising hell about the deal. I think it probably helped even though the DOT people claimed at the public meeting that resistance would be useless, that political considerations would play no role, that the decision would be made by federal officials entirely on the basis of objective data.

40 thoughts on “Spot of good news: My neighborhood isn’t going to be demolished for a hyperspace bypass

  1. bud

    Probably need a better way to notify people directly affected by there were numerous signs in the area about this project. Not sure how you missed them. I saw them so much I got tired of seeing them.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You know why I didn’t see them? Because nobody told me I needed to look at them and try to read them as I drove past, because they contained information of critical importance to me.

      That’s why. I don’t read all the billboards I go past, either.

      I’d love to see a picture of one of those signs, because I’m curious.

      One of the things about billboards is that you have to completely communicate everything you want the potential customer to know with a simple image and a tiny handful of words — what people can take in in a split second.

      You speak of these signs, and I’m trying to think of a sign that would grab my attention and tell me I need to look into this further.

      I guess it would have to be a picture of MY house (what else would let me know at a glance that it affected me?) with a bulldozer starting to destroy it, and the words: “Yo, Quail Hollow residents: We have a plan to destroy your neighborhood! Check it out…”

      That would probably have worked, if it was big enough.

      But somehow I doubt these signs took that approach…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        OK, I’m refining the concept to make it more realistic:

        A picture of a bulldozer destroying the “Quail Hollow” sign at the entrance to the subdivision, with the words: “DOT has a plan to destroy Quail Hollow!” would probably do it, followed by a very short and simple URL. Something like YIKES!.gov.

        Then, of course, we’d need a website that communicated MUCH better than the actual one, starting with detailed interactive maps, instead of those lame ones DOT offered, where it was hard to tell in detail what would be affected…

  2. Richard

    So you’re all about standing in the way of progress. Think of the millions of people who will be affected and the dozen or so who’ll be killed at that intersection over the next few years.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      They had three ways they could do it. Now, they’re going to do it one of the other two ways — which don’t get involve destroying 236 homes…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          … which would have been great if that was something I wanted to do.

          Back when we had our house on the market, we looked at options over there (largely because most of our kids were there), but didn’t see anything we wanted that would be affordable. I was glad when we didn’t get any offers, since I’m comfortable where we are. Since then, one of the kids — and two of the grandchildren — have moved back to the Lexington County side.

          It’s still a bit of a drive to see the other kids, but not too bad. And we still have a house that’s big enough for family gatherings, which is important to me…

      1. Mark Stewart

        This was always the least likely option. The false flag raised to stir people up so that the option chosen won’t face neighborhood opposition.

        It never made economic or political sense. On the other hand, it could have happened for that reason so I’m glad logic prevailed. And I see why you would be, too.

  3. bud

    Let’s clear up one thing Brad has misstated. The imminent domain laws require the government to pay for damages directly or indirectly inflicted on people’s property. So even if your property is not needed for the project but it’s cut off from access that renders it unviable and hence would be subject to full market value payment. Brad’s implication that he would have lost the value of his property without reimbursement is false.

    1. bud

      The fact that so much right of way cost would have been incurred is likely a major factor in rejecting this option. It was probably considered because the environmental costs would have been a bit lower.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Bud, it occurred to me when I wrote that that I would have a good case under the law for being reimbursed.

      But at the rather confusing belated public meeting, nothing of the kind was communicated, unless I missed it because of my hearing problem. In fact, I seem to recall being told that those of us whose property wasn’t needed would be OK because we’d be provided with an overpass or underpass to enable us to get out past the interstate connector that would be smack in front of my house.

      As though that would make everything OK.

      I figured that yeah, if I hired a lawyer and sued the state I might have a case, but it didn’t sound to me like paying those of us whose property wasn’t touched, but was merely rendered worthless, was part of the plan…

  4. bud

    DOT nixes one option for fixing Columbia’s ‘Malfunction Junction’
    -State headline

    This is a real pet peeve of mine. The interchange The State is describing is in no way formally referred to as “Malfunction Junction”. It is completely unprofessional for a publication that should pride itself on providing information accurately and without bias to call something by such a pejorative. The proper name for this interchange is “Carolina Crossroads”. Here’s a summary of the options:

      1. Juan Caruso

        Does Bud’s sudden and unusual defensive of the SCDOT indicate an employee relationship?
        Though unexpected, such a relationship might explain loads.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Bud is retired from DOT. And I therefore readily acknowledge that he knows a LOT more about this project than I do.

          But the fact that I am as ignorant as I am is one of the problems.

          DOT has done a poor job of communicating what it is doing to the public…

          1. Mark Stewart

            That’s shocking, no? DOT is used to dealing with the legislature; local governments, contractors and traffic engineers.

            Not much need, as they see it, for lucid communication with the citizenry. They have a point, really, because all of this is political.

            SCDOT has so many options ’cause they don’t know WHAT they will be told to do.

            1. Mark Stewart

              And this BOT thing on mobile devices is asinine. It doesn’t fill the screen horizontally. Plus, i just had to answer three grids of traffic signs. I feel like a chimp.

              And now I have to answer more and I just did so for the last comment!!!! Argh!!!

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Newspapers use words and names that communicate. “Malfunction Junction” tells people what the subject is. “Carolina Crossroads” communicates nothing.

      Calling it “Carolina Crossroads” is wishful thinking on the part of someone who would LIKE people to call it that…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Kind of like “Strategic Defense Initiative” instead of “Star Wars.”

        Or “Operation Iraqi Freedom” instead of “Iraq War.”

        Speaking of military operation names: I miss when they were less descriptive. “Operation Overlord” was a good name for the invasion of Normandy. “Operation Desert Storm” sounds like a lame attempt at propaganda. And “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is pathetic, completely lacking in imagination…

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Top Five Military Operation Names.

          1, Overlord (D-Day)
          2. Rolling Thunder (Vietnam bombing)
          3. Magneto (Yalta)
          4. Hawkeye (US Radar Research during WWII)
          5. Manhattan Project (The Bomb)

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Actually, as I only recently learned that the D-Day part — amphibious landing and establishment of a secure foothold — was Operation Neptune. “Overlord” refers to the overall battle for Normandy.

            I still prefer to call D-Day “Overlord.” For one thing, “Neptune” doesn’t seem to include all aspects of the invasion, such as the aerial attacks on Normandy ahead of the landings…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            The perfect operation name, I think, is one that in no way hints at the details of the operation, but in retrospect, in the history books, seems somehow fitting.

            “Overlord” fills that bill.

            “Hawkeye” seems a little too descriptive, though.

            “Rolling Thunder” is borderline…

            1. Scout

              I know very little war type information because it generally does not hold my interest, but in 8th grade I had to do a term paper on something in World War II. I chose Dunkirk. It was Operation Dynamo. I always liked that.

              Now I need to see the movie.

      2. bud

        I guess we can start referring to The State as ‘The Fake News Journal’. Brad your explaination is poor because you cite examples that are not derisive.

    2. Doug Ross

      Perhaps we could call the process of planning this project Malfunction Junction then? 4 YEARS to get from kicking it off to starting the process of starting the steps to actually begin construction? 4 YEARS? For the #1 Priority project? Project Initiation began in March 2015. And it took how long to figure out that putting the highway through a neighborhood was probably not a great idea?

      I’m waiting to see what the impact is on commutes during construction…. imagine years of adding 30 minutes or more to the commute of thousands of people.

      Rather than focus on that one chokepoint which will never be alleviated, why not do the smart thing and create a new highway that cuts across from around the Peak exit on 26 across to I77 and then straight over to I20 in Lugoff? That would be forward thinking for the next 50 years.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, you have no idea.

        This particular piece of the plan, with its three options, represented just one of about 15 sections of the overall project, each with its own several options.

        Affected would be many miles of I-20, I-126 and I-26 and areas touched by them.

        Quail Hollow was just sort of like Dog Red sector of Omaha Beach. The overall invasion was way, way more complicated than that.

        Check this page and click on “See the Alternatives” to get a kindergarten-level overview of the overall project. Click on each of the tabs to see how many other facets there are beyond the one that would have destroyed Quail Hollow.

        It’s enormous.

          1. Doug Ross

            I tried to understand all the various options that were displayed in visual form and couldn’t make head or tails of it. There appeared to be five different options for every off ramp and on ramp.

      2. bud

        Dang Doug. Do you really think that option hasn’t been considered??? Or are you so completely jaded you don’t think anyone outside of the private sector has any kind of a brain? Sheesh!

        This stuff is complicated, expensive and affects lots and lots of people along with environmental concerns. There are many trade offs between the various stakeholders. The eventual project won’t be perfect, won’t satisfy everyone but it shouldn’t be rushed. And, this will cost money. Let’s give the DOT some credit for doing a remarkable job with the extremely limited resources available to them. Frankly they should be praised not ridiculed by the naysayers and cynics.

        1. Doug Ross

          “Remarkable job”.

          Uh, nothing has been done or will begin for another two years. That’s more like par for the course than remarkable. That’s the beauty of being in an entity that gets paid no matter what is produced.

          Want to take any bets on whether the project is on time and within 10% of the first budget that is produced? I’ll put the over/under at 12 months late and 50% over budget.

        2. Richard

          It’s okay, you don’t work there anymore… you can badmouth DOT now like everyone else in the state does.

  5. Karen Pearson

    As far as I can tell any one of those patterns might make an interesting block print dress.

    1. Mark Stewart

      I like the ones where traffic flow is supposed to switch sides as it crosses an overpass, then switch back to normal on the other side. South Carolina has a drunk driving problem; switching lane directions would be a good design if one wanted to catch them all on the overpasses – colliding with everyone else just trying to get through and home. I just shook my head and clicked out of the “Carolina Crossroads” waste of tens of millions of dollars….

      1. Doug Ross

        I wonder how much the website cost? Was it done internally by DOT or contracted out? It is a very confusing website. Does the general public need to know all the various on ramp options? How about just do the job correctly.. As they are supposed to do?

          1. Doug Ross

            Yeah, one who is probably connected to a government employee either with kickbacks or a family.

  6. Mark Stewart

    This is my favorite part of the website: “… improve mobility and enhance traffic operations by reducing existing traffic congestion within the I-20/26/126 corridor, while accommodating future traffic needs (through the year 2040)”.

    So, let’s see…it’s the fall of 2017 now. SCDOT is going to begin hiring a contractor and BEGIN right of way acquisitions in 2019 – meaning construction will begin sometime in 2020 at the earliest. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it would seem like this is probably going to be a 10+ year project before everything is “complete.”

    Therefore, construction is complete circa 2030 – and the strategic planning vision only carries this out to 2040! That’s ridiculous. I don’t expect SCDOT to be able to predict the future, but spending hundreds of millions of dollars to meet a projected need that will be overrun in 10 years is a total folly.

    Any major capex project should have a 30-50 year life. It shouldn’t take longer to construct something than its expected needs accommodation.

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