Marion Knox remembers the time more than 40 years ago when he moved his family to the rural highway between Socastee and Murrells Inlet.
“I could go across the road, get the mail and read it before I got back across the road,” he said. “A car would come by now and then.”
Now that highway, S.C. 707, has become vital to the fast-growing south end and is being five-laned. Knox’s mailbox is on his side of the road, the trees that used to shield it from S.C. 707 are gone and the double-wide mobile home where he and his wife Isabelle are living out their golden years will be perhaps 10 feet closer to the ever-growing stream of traffic.
“It can’t be no worse than it is now,” he said, resigned.
Knox is putting the best spin on the work and what it will bring, and others who live and work along the road are actually looking forward to a wider highway.
It’s a hassle now for some – noisy and dusty – with construction taking place outside their doors. But at least one S.C. 707 business has seen new customers because of the construction.
Rick Guignon, who with his wife Mary Anne owns Blue Moon Nursery and Landscaping, said the construction has taken bushes and other plantings that formerly separated his parking lot from the highway.
Since then, he said, “People who didn’t know we were here have been stopping.”
He said that now between 11,000 and 12,000 cars go by his location each day, a number that should increase to 18,000 to 20,000 once the road is widened. Now he has extra parking in the back of the business, and is considering adding more in the front.
For others along the route, the project will bring new brick walls to separate them from the road and a center lane they can use to make left turns onto S.C. 707 easier.
“I think it’s going to help us get in and out,” said Roger Morrison, who has retired from Pennsylvania with his wife to a single-wide between Murrells Inlet and the Knox home.
With just two lanes to work with, his wife Patricia Morrison said, it can take 15 minutes to make a left turn from their subdivision during high-traffic times.
“If you get an opening one way,” she said, “you don’t get it the other.”
The $100 million project originally was to have been completed by now, but a change in the route of S.C. 31 to end it at 707 rather than U.S. 17 forced the S.C. Department of Transportation to combine the two projects into a single entity and to get new permits for the construction.
Now DOT estimates that both will be completed in the spring of 2017 at a combined cost of up to $342 million. The State Infrastructure Bank is providing the majority of the funding for S.C. 31 while Horry County’s Riding on a Penny program will foot the bill for the S.C. 707 work.
When complete, S.C. 707 will be five-laned with curbing, gutters and sidewalks for the entire 9.2-mile stretch from Enterprise Road to U.S. 17.
Construction is at the raggedy stage now, with black plastic silt fences along its length, some trees cut, some berms flattened and intermittent land leveling. While the silt fences mark the area protected from runoff pollutants, they do not denote the edge of the widened road.
Sherry Vance and her mother Zella Vance, said the mobile home that now sits between the highway and their home is to be moved as part of the widening. They have a row of thick bushes along part of their roadside yard, but there is also a lot of open space at both ends.
Zella Vance said she already has trouble sleeping some nights because of the noise on the road. It dies down some about 11:30 p.m., but then picks back up at 5:30 a.m.
“The sound is what’s bad,” Sherry said.
She has an injured knee from falling on a tree stump when she was taking pictures of oaks that have been removed for the construction. Sherry said the specter of a widened S.C. 707 “sucks.” Zella said she’s thought about moving, but knows it won’t happen because her husband doesn’t like change.
But he doesn’t notice the traffic sounds, either.
“He can’t hear,” Zella said. “He wears two hearing aids.”
In some cases, such as that in front of the Knox home, the sidewalk will end about 15 feet toward the center of the road from the silt fence that’s no more than six feet from their front porch steps.
The widening is the kind of project that is rife with possibilities for public outcry. Flattened berms and the loss of plantings that protected some residences from the highway noise are potential sources of discontent as no doubt are the silt fences that run through yards and within a foot or two of some homes.
But some people are like the Knoxes – resigned to the change and don’t see the sense of getting angry about something they can’t stop and others such as the Morrisons are looking forward to improvements. Some, such as Greg Finkel, are hoping for a windfall from the construction.
Finkel said that in 1999, he purchased a home near the Enterprise Road end of the S.C. 707 project with the thought that it was a good investment for the future. He’s completely renovated it, he said, and because of the construction, has put it on the market.
“I hope whoever picks up the house is an investor,” he said.
The investor could rent it out while waiting for the area to turn commercial, the direction Finkel’s Realtor, Johnnie Greene of Re/Max Southern Shores, thinks it will go. Greene said she’s talked with the county about rezoning the property for commercial use.
Residential to commercial?
Greene believes that’s the future for the entire road, much as it has developed in Socastee. She has a second home up the road from Finkel’s that’s also for sale. She said Finkel is asking $169,900 for his 1,600-square-foot home while the 2,100-square-foot home several doors away is on the market for $189,900.
Closer to Murrells Inlet, Realtor Vicky Hamby hopes to get $270,000 for a gray, saltbox-style home that used to be shielded from S.C. 707 by trees. Now the trees are gone, but Hamby said there’ll still be more than enough room for a new owner to put in a row of fast-growing Leyland cypress to shield the new residents from the road.
Hamby said she’s had plenty of inquiries about the home in part because it includes a garage that’s been converted to an in-law residence with a bedroom and its own kitchen.
She said the family selling the home is not doing so because of the widening.
“It’s not as noisy as you think it would be,” Hamby said.
Other businesspeople who work along the route see the benefit of eased access to their offices as the Morrisons do to their home.
Pat Zarcone of Hometeam Construction in the Market Station strip center said that the new sidewalk will abut the outside curb of the single-row parking area. No parking places will be lost, and left turns from the center should be easier.
Getting in and out is more painful now with the construction, but Zarcone doesn’t think it will be that way forever.
“When it’s done,” he said of the widening project, “I think it’ll be better.”
Marion Knox said the traffic began increasing along 707 in the late 1990s and since then has built to the near-constant hum that he said doesn’t bother him. He doesn’t worry about how it’s changed to this point and how it will in the future. What good would worry do him, he asks.
Finkel, too, takes the same kind of roll-with-the-punches attitude about a wider 707.
“Reality is here,” he said.
“You can’t stand in the way of progress,” Zella Vance said. “I’m sure it will be better.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or follow him on Twitter @TSN_SteveJones.