No more rocky road?

Loose gravel from Interstate 26 has damaged windshields of many drivers' cars. Work to repave the section will be done at night and is expected to be completed in about two months.

ALAN HAWES

Resurfacing of Interstate 26 between North Charleston and Summerville begins Wednesday and is expected to eliminate an ongoing problem with loose road stone that cracks windshields and damages vehicle paint jobs, the state Department of Transportation said Friday.

A new surface will be put on 9.5 miles of the I-26 between Ashley Phosphate Road and mile marker 199 at U.S. Highway 17A, said Rickie Green, resident construction engineer.

The work will be done at night and is expected to be completed in about two months, depending on the weather. Banks Construction won the $4.7 million contract for the job, said Tim Henderson, district construction engineer.

Damage to vehicles caused by flying stone on parts of I-26 and the Mark Clark Expressway has been a problem for more than a year. Some said the situation was so bad that they avoided taking the highway.

Motorists have filed at least 72 claims with the DOT alleging that loose stone kicked up from the road by vehicles damaged their cars and trucks, records show. The DOT said the claims total about $80,000, roughly $1,100 per vehicle.

"The problem is with the loose rocks and the breaking windshields. This should fix that problem," said James Law, the DOT regional spokesman.

Also, starting tonight, about 2.5 miles of asphalt will be replaced on Interstate 526 in the left eastbound lane from the S.C. Highway 7 overpass to the Westmoreland Bridge. Approximately four miles of this lane will be closed to create a work zone for the safety of motorists, the DOT said.

The I-526 work is expected to take two nights, weather permitting. Each night's work will begin at 9 p.m. with single lane closures. The work is happening because the road was resurfaced with substandard asphalt. "The contractor didn't know about a problem at the asphalt plant," said Pete Poore, DOT director of communications.

The I-26 road surface is known as "open-graded friction course," and the new surface will be the same thing. It is made from a mix of liquid asphalt and aggregate and is desirable for safety reasons because it drains rainwater effectively, thus reducing splash and spray and the chance for hydroplaning. It also reduces noise from tires.

However, an open graded friction course road can come apart quickly at the end of its life cycle, which is about 10 years. Henderson said the affected section of I-26 needed to be resurfaced two or three years ago but that money wasn't available for the work.

Work to remove old asphalt on I-26 will begin at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, when one of the three eastbound lanes is closed near Summerville, Green said.

The lane closure schedule for the I-26 work is Monday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., Friday from 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., Saturday from 7:30 p.m. to 10 a.m. and Sunday from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. During those times, at least one lane will be closed. Two of the three lanes that run each way may be closed after 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, Green said.

DOT initially declined to release the information on the cars damaged by flying rock on I-26, saying it was confidential legal information. But after a Post and Courier Watchdog report on the issue, Transportation Secretary Buck Limehouse wrote the newspaper last month saying that the agency is "keeping no information related to these claims 'secret,' " and that staffers were reviewing claims.

In a subsequent letter to Watchdog, the agency said it had received 72 claims for $80,000 as of April 5. Officials said more claims had been filed since then but that information on exactly how many was not available Friday.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postandcourier.com.