Aynor overpass almost finished, but debate continues

bdickerson@thesunnews.comJune 17, 2012 

— The Aynor overpass is close to opening, and residents said they are excited the two sides of the town now bisected by U.S. 501 will be connected.

But the question remains as to whether the $18 million spent on the overpass construction project - which is running ahead of its scheduled completion in November, though officials couldn’t say when it might open - could have been better used elsewhere on more congested parts of Horry County.

For Aynor resident Ronall Richardson, it’s definitely money well spent, and he said the overpass will be a big help for the small community with a population of 560 as of the 2010 Census.

“You won’t have to sit there at the light 10 minutes trying to get across,” Richardson said.

Muriel Roberts, who operates Roberts Produce on U.S. 501 next to the overpass, said the biggest advantage the new bridge can provide the residents of Aynor is a bypass in the event a hurricane evacuation is ordered and 501 turns into a parking lot.

As far as normal use, Roberts said she heard from lots of locals who felt waiting to turn at the nearby stoplight would be easier than accessing the overpass.

“A lot of them said it’s just a long way out to go,” she said.

Is it worth it?

More than a few thoughts about the Aynor overpass are that it’s unnecessary for such a small community, whereas burgeoning areas such as Carolina Forest would benefit greatly by road improvements.

Steve Gosnell, head of Horry County’s infrastructure and regulation department, said the Aynor overpass was one of the 15 projects chosen by the sales tax commission ahead of the November 2006 vote on the one cent capital projects sales tax for road projects.

Before those projects were announced, the commission spent a year looking at county road plans and holding public meetings, Gosnell said. He added the thinking was the referendum wouldn’t pass unless the projects were widespread.

“They picked purposefully to scatter them around the county,” Gosnell said.

He pointed out that certain perceptions are the County Council should have funded an overpass elsewhere, such as Carolina Forest. A commission, appointed by the county council, decided which projects would make the funding list through the Riding on a Penny initiative.

As for the Aynor overpass, the commission determined it was difficult for residents to cross U.S. 501, according to Gosnell. Like Roberts, the commission also said the bridge would help in the event of a hurricane evacuation.

The location was a subject of debate that started in 2007 and continued for about two years.

During the initial 2007 public hearing, more than 90 percent of Aynor’s residents supported a route near the northern end of town at the intersection of U.S. 319 and St. Johns Road.

Horry County Councilman Al Allen, who represents Aynor, previously said the overpass’ ultimate location, which is a little south of the town limits, was based on the fact no homes or businesses would be disrupted. Easy access to three local schools - all which serve as hurricane shelters - was another reason the spot was selected.

As for whether that spot has experienced traffic problems during the construction, which started in December 2010, Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins with the S.C. Highway Patrol said there’s been no major issues.

“Speeding was the vast majority of the tickets written out there,” he said, adding that he didn’t have the number of citations.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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