George Adams offered to sell two acres of his land in a quiet corner of Jones Road in Socastee to the state back in 2002, but they only wanted one.
So Adams found himself $55,000 richer and with one less parcel of property.
What he’s left with is a spot for his mobile home that will sit right next to the on ramp for the upcoming extension of S.C. 31. But Adams isn’t holding his breath.
“I’m not sure they’re ever going to finish this road, the way things are going,” Adams said.
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Funding for not only the S.C. 31 extension to S.C. 707, but also the widening of the latter are funded through the 1 percent capital projects sales tax.
Approved by voters in 2006 and put into effect in May 2007, the seven-year life of the tax, known as RIDE II, is coming to an end, leading some local leaders to ask whether the area needs to be thinking about a new effort.
At least one Horry County official wants work to be well underway on S.C. 31 and S.C. 707 before entertaining the idea of extending the life of the RIDE II sales tax or the RIDE I hospitality taxes to fund more local road projects.
“Our plate’s full right now,” said Steve Gosnell, director of Horry County Infrastructure and Regulation.
Gosnell said he’d recommend to the Horry County Council that they move forward with another capital project sales tax initiative, but not before getting through the bulk of the S.C. 31 and S.C. 707 work.
That way, he added, they’ll be able to show the residents they’ll do what they said they were going to do.
Right now, the penny sales tax will expire at the latest on May 2014. The projects don’t have to be built by then, and their funding source is in place.
A so-called RIDE III referendum would have to be on a ballot during an election year. Before that, the county has to develop a commission that chooses worthy road projects in need of funding, a process that Gosnell said takes about a year. It took five years, however, from when the RIDE II commission was formed in 2001 and the tax was approved by voters.
Gosnell said his recommendation to the council would be have a commission in place at the end of either 2013 or 2014, and then have the referendum on the ballot in 2016.
Of course, the timing of that depends on finishing up the current road projects funded through the penny sales tax, or RIDE II.
Talks of getting another permanent funding source like the penny sales tax on the ballot isn’t on the agenda for the county’s spring budget retreat, although some officials are already thinking about it.
‘Everybody’s used to it now’
County Councilman Al Allen is among the leaders in favor of a RIDE III, saying during his recent campaign for County Council chairman that he’d support an effort that would benefit Carolina Forest and help build the Southern Evacuation Lifeline on the south end of the county.
Mark Lazarus, who defeated Allen in the Republican primary for the chairman’s seat and so far has no opposition in the general election, also said during his campaign that he’d favor a new road effort, though he stressed that any new tax for the effort would need to be approved by residents in a referendum.
It’s not just county leaders pondering a RIDE III.
Myrtle Beach Councilman Wayne Gray has been outspoken in encouraging his county colleagues to consider a new roads plan. Gray has floated the idea of extending the hospitality taxes of RIDE I past their 2023 sunset date instead of a new sales tax, using new funds to help build parts of Interstate 73 to the area.
“Hopefully, that will be something discussed,” he said in a late March meeting of city and county officials in Myrtle Beach.
Whatever happens, however, he said he wants to “make sure the city gets well represented on RIDE III.”
Adams, for one, thinks the county is already 10 years too late on extending S.C. 31.
“Everybody’s used to it now,” he said.
Climb a steep, grassy burrow on what used to be Adams’ land and you’ll be standing on what will one day be transformed into an asphalt and concrete roadway.
At one end of this nearly mile-long stretch of property is the S.C. 31 off ramp that dumps drivers onto S.C. 544 in Socastee. At the other end is a large hill with “road ends” signs firmly secured on the summit.
Adams spends a lot of time on his screened-in back porch and can hear the traffic heading down S.C. 544. No matter what the future of the project is, the Horry County resident of 42 years knows he and his wife will have to get used to the sound of even more cars and trucks when the on ramp finally starts getting used.
“We’re stuck,” Adams said.
‘Light at the end of the tunnel’
Stuck is where the S.C. 31 and S.C. 707 projects seem to be.
Gosnell said the county is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to get the necessary environmental permits needed to continue the S.C. 31 extension and the widening of S.C. 707.
This process began in 2010 and has taken much longer than planners expected. No specific reason was given for the hold up, but Gosnell said he’s not aware of any lawsuits that are delaying the permit acquisitions.
“We’re anxiously anticipating getting the permit for 707 this summer,” Gosnell said. “We think we see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mike Barbee, project manager with the S.C. Department of Transportation, has said the hopes are to start construction in the late summer if the permits are received.
The work is still scheduled to last for three years, with an estimated completion in the fall of 2016.
Other projects still in the early stages are the widening of Glenns Bay Road to three lanes and paving two lanes of International Drive in Carolina Forest. Both are in the process of right-of-way and permitting acquisition, Gosnell said.
Then there’s the backgate construction project.
Starting Monday, the next major traffic shift at the intersection of U.S. 17 Bypass and Farrow Parkway in the Myrtle Beach area will begin. At 8 p.m., southbound vehicles will start traveling on two ramps 100 feet west of U.S. 17.
With both northbound and southbound traffic diverted to ramps, crews will start constructing the overpass that officials hope will alleviate congestion at one of the busiest intersections in the Myrtle Beach area.
The backgate work is scheduled for completion in August 2014, three months after the official expiration date of the penny sales tax that will generate $425 million in revenue for the 15 road projects.
Looking to the future
What about funding for future road projects?
Horry County Councilman James Frazier, who served on both the RIDE I and RIDE II committees, admits he hasn’t given much thought to a possible RIDE III.
He has, however, been very satisfied with how the penny sales tax projects have come along and thinks future funding would be needed. Frazier, whose district includes Bucksport, said he gets frequent calls from residents about the 70 miles of dirt roads in the area.
“Good roads, we need that more than a dead man needs a coffin,” Frazier said.
Councilman Paul Prince, one of the council’s most vocal supporter of road improvements, said he’s already suggested the possibility of another penny sales tax referendum. But as far as his support, it has to depend on whether it benefits all the residents of Horry County.
Prince worried that many voters who supported the penny sales tax referendum didn’t read it carefully enough to understand what the specific projects were it would fund. He added he’s gotten many calls from residents asking why the revenue hasn’t gone toward paving their dirt road.
If a RIDE III is put on a ballot, Prince wants county officials to do a better job educating the people about the actual referendum before voting on it.
“They need to clearly understand what they’re voting on,” Prince said.