New evacuation study has chamber backing, but critics say they have better route

sjones@thesunnews.comAugust 1, 2012 

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has a new study that says the construction of two major highways by 2030 would help get 90,000 more people out of the way of hurricane destruction up to 10 hours faster than if no new roads are built.

That’s fine, says Nancy Cave, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, but her organization has a study that says the same thing can be done faster and cheaper.

The chamber rolled out its study at a meeting Wednesday that said the area needs Interstate 73 and the Southern Evacuation Lifeline in order to be able to move people quickly out of the north and south ends of the Grand Strand in the face of an approaching Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

The north end could evacuate up to 40,000 people hours faster with a completed I-73 and up to 50,000 from the south end once the SELL is in place.

The Chamber didn’t present any formal cost estimate for building the two limited access expressways, but Horry County emergency management director Randy Webster said that’s not an important consideration.

“My goal is to get people out of harm’s way,” he said Wednesday afternoon, hours after the Chamber’s meeting. “I don’t care what it costs.”

Webster said the Chamber’s study was done by the country’s leading evacuation expert, and he tended to believe and subscribe to its recommendations.

Webster said he believes that new roads are preferable to improving existing roads, because existing roads will never be the limited access highways that move quantities of vehicles faster.

But Cave said there’s another side to the story.

“If the Chamber was so concerned [about evacuating] people,” she said, “they would be promoting the upgrading of S.C. 38/U.S. 501 [from the Grand Strand to I-95], the four-laning of S.C. 9 from Green Sea to I-95 and the four-laning of 521 from Andrews to I-95.”

She said the chamber’s study really is public relations to promote funding of I-73 and SELL to better move tourists into and around the Grand Strand.

She said that further, a really concerned chamber would embrace the federal five-day hurricane warning and urge tourists to stay away.

“Yet they are resistant of heeding it because they lose business,” she said.

Cave said the Conservation League has a study from an independent transportation consultant that says the construction of SELL only moves the traffic bottleneck farther west.

And, she added, because neither of the major road projects backed by the chamber study has permits or funding, the improvements to existing roads could be done more quickly.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765. Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401.

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