The headache that U.S. 501 southbound sometimes is will continue until at least 2020, and one representative said there’s a simple way to free up transportation dollars to get it done quicker – stop giving money to environmental groups.
The Grand Strand Area Transportation Study committee announced Friday it has secured the $7 million needed to widen U.S. 501 southbound from Gardner Lacy Road to S.C. 31. However a point of contention for Bo Ives, president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association, is the project’s placement on a priority list, which currently is No. 22.
“Our initial understanding of when that project was to begin was in 2016, now it slipped to where we won’t even see construction activity until 2020,” Ives said. “We’re here to ask this committee to see if you can’t find a way to move that project up the priority list.”
Ives said the association has been talking to Rep. Mike Ryhal, R-Myrtle Beach, in the interest of getting the project done.
“What he did do was make sure the project was fully funded, but it hasn’t moved up in priority yet,” Ives said. “And as the [GSATS Chairman Nelson Hardwick] said, it’s really dollars and how the county and the state can come up with funding.”
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, said projects could get moving quicker if conservation groups would stop delaying road projects.
“We try everyday to get more money and to move things forward,” Hardwick said. “If you give money to environmental groups, stop it. Stop doing it. They’re costing us... $15 million on our penny roads. These aren’t roads that politicians designed. These are roads that good people designed... If we can cut them out of the picture, we would have the funds.”
Hardwick was referring to the estimated $20 million that the S.C. Department of Transportation has tied to delays in the road extension of S.C. 31 and the widening of S.C. 707. The Coastal Conservation League, through the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed comments about the projects, which state officials credited for a two-year delay. Nancy Cave, north coast director for the league, said at the time of the accusation that the league should not be blamed for the delay, and that all it did was ask questions and for further information during the appropriate time in the process.
Cave did not return a call for comment Friday regarding Hardwick’s comment.
Hardwick said the state needs to find more ways of funding for the roads so projects in need, like this one, aren’t in limbo long.
“I, for one, didn’t sign a no tax pledge,” he said. “I’d be glad to raise a motor fuel tax, it’s a user fee, on gasoline to put some money in the bank. We have to do something on a state level other than just sit there while our roads fall apart.”
Ives said Mark Hoeweler, assistant executive director for the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments, will be at the association’s next meeting, which is at 6 p.m. Oct. 16 in the Carolina Forest Recreation Center, to discuss the process of how the priority list works.
“I’m hoping that further citizen input in meetings like this will help them realize the importance of this project over other projects on the list,” he said. “So now it’s funding. If anything can be done to get more funds to state coffers for road widening projects, we might get there sooner.”