While there may not be a lot of noticeable activity at the Highway 17 Bypass and S.C. 707 interchange this summer, that doesn’t mean the S.C. Department of Transportation isn’t working hard at Horry County’s second most expensive road construction project.
“That doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot going on. There is,” said Mike Barbee, regional production engineer for SCDOT. “It’s just all the necessary work from an underground perspective to get it in preparation for the bridges.”
The project, known locally as the back gate construction because of its proximity to the old back gate of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, was sold to taxpayers as a $49.5 million project and is part of a larger one-cent sales tax program approved by voters in 2006. The project – almost half complete – is now slated to cost $121.7 million with $15 million of it funded by the federal government.
The headaches of 70,000 cars and trucks jammed daily in that intersection may be compounded by the lack of visual results for some, but Barbee said the project is still on track.
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“There’s a lot going on right now that’s not visible. It’s under the ground,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of our ground improvement work now that will get the soil to a point where it can support the bridge columns.”
The aim of the project is to build an overpass that eliminates the stoplight at Farrow Parkway/S.C. 707 and keeps U.S. 17 Bypass traffic moving. The improvements are expected to ease traffic congestion at the back gate.
“When we complete that work over the next few months, probably in the fall, we’ll start pouring our columns and then folks will see the structure rising out of the ground,” Barbee said. “Right now, it’s just a lot of sub-surface work.”
John Johnson, project engineer for Columbia-based CDM Smith who is working on the back gate project, said the crew recently finished 25 drill shafts for the bridge’s substructure foundation, which was a two-month project. He said the next big project is the deep soil mixing that can take up to six weeks to complete.
Johnson said CDM representatives knew the low quality of the soil before beginning construction two years ago.
“This magnitude of a job has seven different traffic phases,” Johnson said, adding the project is at the fourth phase. When completed, Johnson said, “It’ll fix this area.”
Barbee said no more traffic shifts are planned until the project is completed in the fall of 2014.
“For the driver that travels through there, the traffic pattern that they see now where the traffic is kind of split off onto the ramps, that will be in place for quite a while while the bridges are being constructed,” he said. “Probably up to the scheduled completion date, which is next fall.”
Residents and business owners alike have previously said they are waiting patiently to reap the rewards of the new bridge – less congested roads and more exposure and access for businesses.
As for any foreseen roadblocks in the plans, Barbee is keeping his fingers crossed that the rest of the project runs smoothly. He said the state has its usual incentive for construction crews to get the work done before the projected completion date.
“It’s too early to tell because anything can happen,” he said. “Our hope is that they will be done before that, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”