Horry County officials, American civil engineers, want to see more done with infrastructure

bdickerson@thesunnews.comJanuary 15, 2013 

— The American Society of Civil Engineers is trumpeting work on the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure as vital to the nation’s economy in the last of its series looking at what happens if the country fails to act..

“Deterioration of our nation’s infrastructure undermines our economy, jeopardizes our safety, threatens our quality of life and harms the environment,” said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of Transportation and Infrastructure and vice president of Americans for Transportation Mobility.

Kavinoky was one of the panelists who spoke at the Tuesday unveiling of the ASCE’s final part of its “Failure to Act” series, “The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America’s Economic Growth.”

National officials aren’t the only ones concerned about infrastructure improvements. Horry County is amid several longstanding road and bridge projects, from the new overpass at the intersection of Farrow Parkway and U.S. 17 at the former backgate, to the recent completion of the Aynor Overpass.

Still, officials think there’s more work to be done. Some projects are in the works, while others are currently wishlist items.

Along with increasing safety, the ASCE’s report states that improving the condition of the nation’s aging roads, bridges, power lines, sewer systems, ports and waterways is critical to protecting 3.5 million jobs.

“Infrastructure is the lifeblood of our economy and provides the foundation for assuring a high quality of life for all Americans,” said Gregory DiLoreto, president of ASCE.

The ASCE finds an additional investment of $157 billion a year between now and 2020 toward infrastructure would eliminate a drag on economic growth. They’re expecting $877 billion in funding for surface transportation over the next seven years, but feel $1.7 trillion is what’s needed. That creates an $846 billion gap.

As the panel pointed out, roads benefit the economy as well as public safety, be it hurricane evacuation or other needs.

In Horry County, improvement plans are already in place for one of its most traveled roads.

The northbound lane of U.S. 501 from Carolina Forest Boulevard to Gardner Lacy Road is expected to begin this summer, said Leah Quattlebaum, S.C. Department of Transportation project manager. The construction is budgeted between $4 million and $5 million.

Quattlebaum said the widening of the southbound portion of U.S. 501 is set to begin around 2016 at an estsimated cost of $7 million.

The heavily traveled U.S. 501 is the major artery into Myrtle Beach and is a hurricane evacuation route for surrounding areas like Carolina Forest.

But for Randy Webster, the upcoming U.S. 501 widening won’t make much of a difference in the event a hurricane evacuation is needed.

The director of Horry County Emergency Management said even turning U.S. 501 into an eight-lane highway from Myrtle Beach wouldn’t make a difference if it stopped at Conway.

“There’s no way to get through Conway,” Webster said.

He said a big help would be widening a 30-mile section of U.S. 378 to four lanes starting around S.C. 41 and going all the way to Conway. He didn’t have an estimate as to how much it might cost.

“You’ve got to do something different than we’re doing now. We need capacity,” Webster said.

Capacity is also an issue when it comes to certain bridges.

AAA Carolinas’ top 20 substandard bridges of 2012 in S.C. doesn’t contain any in Horry County.

However, there is one theme that runs through the top 20 -- 17 of them were built between 1922 and 1962.

While not listed as substandard, the bridge going over the Intracoastal Waterway on U.S. 501 in Myrtle Beach was built exactly 50 years ago in 1963.

These older bridges were built during the era of Model T cars and lanes were 10 feet wide, said Pete Poore, SCDOT spokesman. Also, the bridges have no shoulders where vehicles can stop safely in case of a breakdown.

Anyone driving over the Intracoastal Waterway bridge can attest to how narrow it is, and there’s no space for someone to pull over.

Poore said the current standard for bridges is 12-foot lanes and some sort of shoulder. Anything less doesn’t cut it.

“That’s kind of the definition of obsolete,” he said.

Two bridges on U.S. 501 are listed as substandard on the AAA Carolinas report, but they aren’t likely to be changed anytime soon.

The two bridges that cross U.S. 501 at George Bishop Parkway and Forestbrook Road were both built in 2004, according to the AAA data.

So, how can bridges that are less than 10 years old be considered substandard? Lee Floyd, state bridge maintenance engineer for the SCDOT, said all their designations are based on federal standards. If a bridge is deemed structurally deficient, functionally obsolete or both, then it has to be classified substandard.

In the case of these two structures, there isn’t much distance between the edge of the travelway and the nearest permanent obstruction below, where the parkway goes underneath, Floyd said.

“It doesn’t mean anything unsafe or anything,” he said.

Floyd said there are no future plans for major bridge work in Horry County. He explained that the department provides AAA with raw data, and the organization uses its own ranking system to determine if a bridge is substandard.

“They have kind of a funky way of the way they take our data and manipulate it,” he said. “Their scheme is very heavily weighted toward traffic.”

Angela Daley, spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, said their definitions of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete also come from federal guidelines. Their main focus for listing a bridge as substandard, she said, is traffic.

The U.S. 501 bridge near George Bishop Parkway was given a sufficiency rating of 71.7, meaning its insufficient rating was 28.3, Daley said.

AAA then multiplies that insufficient rating by the average weekly traffic. Daley said the George Bishop Parkway bridge averages 170,100 cars a week, and it received a substandard rating.

“It clearly wasn’t built to handle that amount of traffic,” Daley said.

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