Money left over from 31 extension won’t fund northward leg to North Carolina border

People who think there’s a pot of money somewhere with enough in it to build S.C. 31 from its current terminus at S.C. 9 to the North Carolina border could be in for some disappointment.

Or if there is, it’s not going to come from money leftover from the freeway’s southern extension that’s now under construction.

Steve Gosnell, Horry County assistant manager, said he does not know yet exactly how much money dedicated to S.C. 31 will remain when the southern leg is finished.

He won’t have that figure until all the bills come in, but he’s certain it won’t be enough to pay the $150 million to $170 million he said the S.C. Department of Transportation currently estimates the four-mile northward extension will cost.

There may be enough to do the environmental studies required for the northern extension, though, Gosnell said.

The money remaining after the southern extension will not automatically be put in Horry County’s bank account, either. By law, it is to go back to the State Infrastructure Bank, which gave it to the road project in the first place.

But the money, which is designated for S.C. 31 work, could stay in Horry County if the SIB approves it doing so.

And, said Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council, the county should secure the funds and use them for whatever it can pay for that’s needed for the northern extension.

He said he thinks there may be more than what’s needed for the environmental studies, which can cost a million or more, but he understands there likely won’t be $50 million as was previously thought.

When officials on both sides of the state line believed the funding was at hand, they began to arrange a meeting between decision makers in Horry and Brunswick, N.C., counties.

But Phil Norris, chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners, said he will stop trying to get attendance from his side of the border until S.C. has funding in place. The two sides need to discuss just where the 31 extension will hit the state line and where a North Carolina-funded freeway will go from there to tie into U.S. 17.

The North Carolina transportation department said it is ready to talk when the S.C. DOT has the money dedicated to the northward extension.

The extension on both sides of the line would help to alleviate northbound and southbound traffic that now flows through Little River.

Truckers and most locals already avoid urban areas on the South Carolina side of the border by taking S.C. 57 which becomes Hickman Road in North Carolina and connects with U.S. 17 just south of Brunswick Plantation.

Lazarus and S.C. Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, said they question how the DOT’s estimate is accurate for just four miles of freeway.

Edge said he thinks it’s just a figure transportation officials calculated without any detailed study of the actual costs.

Edge said he will try to get the transportation department to reexamine its estimate and come up with a new cost that’s more fact based.