The next 12 months are poised to be a big year for transportation along the Grand Strand.
Milestones include the end to financing a $425 million 15-project sales tax program that is slated to come in at or under budget, the completion of the U.S. 17 Bypass and S.C. 707 overpass project that should alleviate traffic pressures that the 70,000 daily vehicles that travel that intersection during peak season brings and several other odds and ends, including in the Carolina Forest area, that county officials hope will appease area voters as they plan to unveil a third multi-million dollar road construction project in a year from now.
“We’re finishing up the projects that were started quite a few years back and it’s great to see all of that come about,” said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman. “Our hopes are that we do have the public backing and the confidence from the public that these projects are getting done. We’re doing what we said we would do and they’re getting done in a timely fashion... We’ve held to the budgets and I think everybody’s done an outstanding job.”
The following is a breakdown of what’s to come in 2014:
Complete Carolina Forest Boulevard turn lanes
County planners bumped up the anticipated expansion of Carolina Forest Boulevard because residents in the growing area have been concerned about the traffic. So, the county will install turn lanes at Southgate, Avalon and at the Carolina Forest Library to ease traffic on Carolina Forest Boulevard until it can be resurfaced, which is planned for the summer.
Penny sales tax ends in May
In 2006, voters approved RIDE II, a $425 million program aimed at improving transportation throughout Horry County. Voters saw the roads that were going to be improved, and in which order, as they were placing their votes. A complete list of the projects, including an update on their status, is available at www.RidingOnaPenny.com. The program is funded, in part, by a one-cent Capital Project Sales Tax that is applied to just about anything that was bought in the county. By law, the county is able to collect the sales tax for the exact amount of money, which is $425,307,500, or for seven years, which would be May 1.
As of Oct. 21, the latest figures available, the county has collected $399,649,798.
“As you can see we are tracking very close, and believe we will collect the projected amount,” said Lisa Bourcier, spokeswoman for the county.
Initiate process to develop next RIDE referendum
“After the first of the year, you’ll start to hear us talk about RIDE III because the penny sales tax does end, and we have quite a few more major road projects that we need to undertake and we need to start looking at,” Lazarus said.
It’s a process that includes the formation of a committee to review potential projects to put before a public vote. He said Horry County will work on attaining state and federal funds, but with those commitments comes a local match requirement.
“The majority of it is going to have to come from us,” Lazarus said.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, said many in the state legislature have already decided a gas tax is not the way to funds roads, so fees will likely be proposed.
“They can see the results of what’s happening with the sales tax and finally get started on 707 and 31,” Hardwick said, referring to the widening of a 9-mile stretch of S.C. 707 and the extension of S.C. 31 to the Horry-Georgetown county line. “We’ve seen what it’s done and where it’s gotten us to. It’s worked well. As far as 2014, the state legislature will be looking for some money that we can dedicate to roads.”
He said he would like to see the yet-unnamed committee members for RIDE III consider a bridge on the south end of the county.
“We need to cross the river here on the south end for two reasons,” Hardwick said. “We need it to get here in a traffic jam, but, the people who sit on buses and work for minimum wage jobs here in South Carolina... or sit in cars... need to get to and from work quicker and easier. A simple bridge across the river would save minimum-wage employees an hour and a half a day.”
Bid and begin S.C. 707 widening project
The $105 million widening of S.C. 707 from a two-lane shoulder section to a five-lane curb and gutter road will stretch a little more than 9 miles, from just south of Enterprise Road to the Horry/Georgetown county line. The project, which is set to be complete by the spring of 2017, should alleviate the traffic jams that occur from the 28,000 to 30,000 daily vehicles along that stretch.
The project is being funded completely by the Riding on a Penny referendum.
Bid the Glenn’s Bay Interchange and widening project
The $80 million project is slated to be bid on in the spring, and contractors will be clearing and the project beginning in the summer. It includes an interchange at U.S. 17 Bypass and Glenn’s Bay Road, and the widening of Glenn’s Bay Road from U.S. 17 Bypass to U.S. 17 Business. Construction is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2017.
Continue paving dirt roads
Resurface about 20 miles of county-paved roads
Complete the back gate project
The $121.7 million project, known locally as the back gate construction because of its proximity to the old back gate of the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, will include an overpass that eliminates the stoplight at the Farrow Parkway/S.C. 707 intersection, and keeps U.S. 17 Bypass traffic moving. It is estimated that about 70,000 cars and trucks pass through that intersection during peak season.
Lazarus, who owns a water park in Surfside Beach, which is south of the intersection , said he has already seen improvements.
“I can tell you, I think the DOT has done an outstanding job handling the traffic,” Lazarus said. “There’s times that I even said, with the increased left turn lanes they’ve put going into Market Common, that traffic seemed to flow better heading south than it did prior to them starting the project.”
Acquire ennvironmental permit for International Drive; begin construction in winter 2014/15
The International Drive project is a $15.5 million project that is designed to pave and widen about 5 1/2 miles of roadway between S.C. 90 and River Oaks Drive.
“We’re going to work hard toward finalization of International Drive,” Lazarus said. “We’ve sent in for the permits and started to work on that. As far as we know, and the way the budget shows the money, we’ve got plenty of money to complete that project. That will be the last big project to complete. That and Glenn’s Bay.”
Completing International Drive has been a point of reference for officials who will want to sell the RIDE III program to the public in the fall of 2016.
“We’ve been moving forward,” Lazarus said. “We have the confidence of the public, who understands the process now even better, and we will put it out for vote again and hopefully it will be voted in the positive and we can build some roads.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.