Municipalities vow to have louder voice in future Horry County road projects

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comFebruary 6, 2014 

— Cities in Horry County vow to have a louder voice as the county moves forward with its next major road project.

The county announced Thursday it will move forward in the 2016 General Election with a RIDE III program to fund hundreds of millions of dollars of road improvements.

In the mid-1990s, Horry County began its first RIDE, or Road Improvement and Development Effort, program. It was instrumental in creating what is now the State Infrastructure Bank, which is largely used to assist in funding major road projects throughout the state. S.C. 22 and S.C. 31 were among the initial RIDE projects, funded by local money through a 1.5 percent hospitality fee countywide and state funding.

In 2006, nearly 62 percent of voters approved a one-cent sales tax to fund a $425.3 million RIDE II program to fix roads, such as the S.C. 707 and U.S. 17 Bypass, the widening of S.C. 707 and many more. Horry County has until May to collect the $425.3 million sum. Now county officials are planning a referendum in 2016 – a presidential election year when turnout is typically high.

The process of determining which roads make the list, which reached 104 in the RIDE II program, includes the creation of a committee appointed by County Council members to come up with the list of roads that need attention. The list is then forwarded to a sales tax commission, whose members are charged with narrowing down the list, prioritizing it, and then presenting it to the full County Council for approval before it goes to the voters.

Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said Thursday at a council workshop that he will inform cities to bring their recommendations for sales tax commission members to the county.

Myrtle Beach Councilman Wayne Gray was at the workshop and said state law defines that a city the size of Myrtle Beach will get one appointment to the sales tax commission, and no other municipality in the county fits the size required for an automatic appointment to the commission.

Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said after the meeting that she would like the two next biggest cities, Conway and North Myrtle Beach, to have a seat on the commission.

North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, who is the chairwoman of the League of Cities, said the league had a member on the committee during RIDE II, but she was not sure why it wasn’t represented on the sales tax commission.

“We are very interested in the RIDE III [commission] and would like to have a part, and a voice, to be heard on what we, as a league, consider the importance of the different roads in our communities,” Hatley said. “We certainly have seen great benefits from this project.”

State law does not address representation from organizations like the League of Cities.

Some of the bigger projects funded by the RIDE in municipalities are Robert Grissom Parkway and the Fantasy Harbour bridge in the original RIDE program, and the Main Street Connector from S.C. 31 to North Myrtle Beach during RIDE II.

County Council members have said they want taxpayers to see more results of RIDE II before it puts another referendum before them.

Hatley said the League does not have to be sold on the program’s success to know it wants a stronger voice.

“We’re seeing a lot of improvement,” Hatley said of the road projects. “I think that the League of Cities interests is basically to be a part of what the next step is and what are the needs of our county for roads in the next five to 10 years. We will certainly be very interested in having our appointment on the RIDE III commission.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301.

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