The first signs of relief for one of the most congested stretches of highway in Horry County are out.
A construction crew began installing signs to announce the upcoming roadwork Tuesday, said Kyle Berry, district construction engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Originally slated for the summer, U.S. 501 northbound in Carolina Forest will be widened to three lanes between Waccamaw Pines Road where the Tanger Outlets are located and Gardner Lacy Road.
Leah Quattlebaum, project manager with the S.C. DOT said the construction is budgeted between $4 million and $5 million.
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Bo Ives, president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association, hopes the work will relieve some of the congestion on Carolina Forest Boulevard.
“We believe that one reason Carolina Forest Boulevard carries so much traffic is because people who wish to go from Myrtle Beach to Conway come up [Robert] Grissom Parkway to Carolina Forest to avoid the tangle at the Tanger Outlets,” he said.
Currently, S.C. 31 dumps into what becomes a turn lane for the Tanger Outlets, putting merging traffic and turning traffic in one lane.
Ives hopes the additional lane could help prevent traffic accidents like the one that killed 4-year-old Jada Bennett in March 2012.
The crash occurred in a northbound lane of U.S. 501 when a tractor-trailer went through the intersection of U.S. 501 and Waccamaw Pines Drive, hitting the SUV Bennett was riding in. A minivan, also involved in the crash, and the SUV had slowed for traffic, the report said. The tractor-trailer was traveling at 50 miles per hour in the center lane of U.S. 501, which is five miles below the speed limit, according to the report. Drivers in the SUV and the minivan were going 40 mph.
Several people were hurt in the crash and were taken to local hospitals. Bennett was a passenger in the SUV and was in a child safety seat when the crash happened, but died from a head injury suffered in the wreck.
“There isn’t room and people who aren’t familiar with the area often get stuck,” Ives said. “People who are familiar with the area just put up with it.”
Ives doesn’t mind the delay in construction because it meant limiting travel delays during the tourist season, which floods the roadways with more traffic than normal.
“They’re also going to be cognizant of the [Fall Bike] Rally and do as much work at night when traffic flows are less intense,” Ives said.
The rally, which started Monday and ends Sunday, is expected to have more motorcycles on the Grand Strand this year than in 2012.
Berry said traffic shouldn’t be impacted for a few weeks because of the construction project.
He said it’s starting this week, first with the signage, then some landscaping work in the form of black tenting on the grounds meant to keep construction debris in the work zone. Equipment will start arriving in the next week also.
No lanes will be closed until the end of October or early November, Berry said.
That will come with reduce speed in the work zone, which Berry said is meant to ensure safety for motorists and workers.
Berry said the additional lane should help traffic flow on U.S. 501 by increasing room for vehicles.
But, for Randy Webster, the widening the major artery into Myrtle Beach and a hurricane evacuation route likely won’t make a big difference in the event an evacuation is needed.
The director of Horry County Emergency Management said even turning U.S. 501 into an eight-lane highway from Myrtle Beach wouldn’t help that much if it stopped at Conway.
“There’s no way to get through Conway,” Webster said.
Berry said the contractor for the project has until the end of 2014 to finish widening the roadway.
International Drive, a project included in the Riding on a Penny one-cent sales tax initiative, also saw delays but is expected to begin next year.
That project involves the paving and widening of about 51/2f miles of road that connects the end of Carolina Forest at River Oaks Drive to S.C. 90. Initially budgeted at $6.5 million with a completion set in 2013, construction won’t begin until late next year to the tune of $15.5 million, according to ridingonapenny.com.
The schedule to begin construction is dependent upon the cost of the S.C. 707 widening and the Glenn’s Bay Road widening. Both are higher priority projects on the Riding on a Penny list, but officials expect the project to be completed as expected.
On Tuesday, Horry County Council voted to designate county portions International Drive in memory of Lt. Gen. James Vaught – a road project he often griped about for its slower pace.
He died Sept. 20 in an apparent drowning.
Vaught had deep roots in Horry County, having been born in Conway and attending the Citadel in Charleston in the early 1940s. Vaught was drafted in 1945 and retired in 1983. He served with several divisions, including the 82nd Airborne, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as chief of staff for the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.
As of August 2013, the design for International Drive was nearly complete and the acquisition of right-of-ways was 50 percent complete.