The convergence of Interstates 20, 26 and 126 is located five miles northwest of the University of South Carolina campus. Known locally as “Malfunction Junction,” the area includes older bridges and dangerous merge points and is congested daily during rush hours.
But the key interchange that connects all regions of the state is receiving a significant makeover. The $2.08 billion Carolina Crossroads project will consist of five phases and include 14 widened interstate miles, 43 new bridges and seven reconstructed interchanges. Early construction on Phases 1 and 2 began earlier this summer, and the entire project is expected to be completed by 2029. With improved traffic flow, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) expects the project will save the average commuter 112 hours each year.
The project will have design and construction contributions from several College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) alumni from local civil engineering firms. They have come together on the Carolina Crossroads project, which is the highest priority infrastructure project currently in South Carolina.
“Knowing that this area has been such an issue for so many years, I take pride and feel it's a privilege to work on this project and fix the problem,” says alum Preston Felkel, SC Structures Manager for Infrastructure Consulting and Engineering in West Columbia, South Carolina. “That's what we do as engineers. We are problem solvers, and this is as big a problem in our own backyard, and we’re working together to fix it.”
Students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) are learning and utilizing their experiences and research to properly design, construct and maintain infrastructure to help solve real world problems requiring innovative solutions. Alumni involved in the Carolina Crossroads project are fixing issues from the ground up and pushing the boundaries of possibilities into tangible solutions.
“We’re just enabling people to go about their daily lives doing the things they want and getting them from point A to point B safely,” says Brian Klauk, ‘96, a project manager with SCDOT for the Carolina Crossroads project. “Every time I’m doing an engineering calculation, I’m also considering how I connect it to something bigger. This project is important to me personally.”
CEC alumni working on the project have brought their expertise and knowledge to help improve the lives of everyone using the improved transportation infrastructure. The massive project would not be possible without the collaboration of countless specialists, including CEC alumni who continue to carry the passion that motivated them to pursue a civil engineering career.
“At this juncture of my career, I've gotten into perspective of, ‘Hey, this is why I wanted to be a civil engineer and particularly infrastructure work because we can help improve the lives of so many people. That's what we're trying to do, and it’s nice that we have such a great project here in South Carolina,” says Theo Deligiannidis, ’05, a senior bridge engineer for HDR.
Research is one way the CEE department offers undergraduate students’ the opportunity to gain real world experience. For some alumni, their undergraduate research experience inspired them to continue their education journey, which later led to successful civil engineering careers. For example, Deligiannidis performed research in structural health monitoring, which contributes to the safety and soundness of structures. Research opportunities allow students to gain knowledge of how the civil engineering industry works and how current issues are being solved.
“When you're doing research, you're trying to challenge or expand current knowledge or determine if it’s even possible,” says Juan Caicedo, CEE department chair. “It [research] definitely helps students create a mindset of, ‘I'm not going to only do what the book and code says, but how far can I go to make things work?”
Alumni working to improve the area’s transportation infrastructure are assisting a community that they have invested in personally, with most of them still living in the Columbia area with family and friends.
“I have lived in South Carolina most of my life and have had plenty of personal experiences. Now, I’m enjoying working on a project that will improve the infrastructure and benefit people in the community that I’ve known for a while,” Deligiannidis says.
CEC alumni involved in the Carolina Crossroads project understand the importance of upgrading and modernizing a vital transportation corridor that sees more than 134,000 vehicles travel through the area daily. Their work is critical for improving daily commutes for thousands of South Carolinians and positive changes for the state’s economic activity.
“I take pride and feel it's a privilege to work on this project. This area has been a big problem for years, and we're all working together to fix it,” Felkel says. “It's nice how everything aligned for so many of us to participate in it. There’s a lot of UofSC grads that are working on this project, so we all have a sense of pride working together to achieve the same goal.”