Grand Strand officials may be closer to an agreement over proposed traffic patterns that would be in place during Memorial Day weekend to keep vehicles moving and cut down on “street parties” – which officials say can lead to crime.
Officials are leaning toward a series of pared-down traffic loops that would vary depending on the level of congestion on the roads, with S.C. 31 only being used as a last resort. The proposed traffic pattern is one piece of a comprehensive plan that area officials have been hashing out since Memorial Day weekend turned violent in Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach also is shifting police officers to create a special team to implement the city’s plan to make the holiday weekend safer, which the city is paying for through a property tax increase and reallocated accommodations tax revenues. Surfside Beach – which had more traffic during Memorial Day weekend this year than in previous years – also plans to tap accommodations tax revenue to pay for extra officers for the holiday next year.
“By the first of the year we will have more of an understanding of what the plan is,” Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said.
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Officials are closer on deciding a traffic pattern after several loops were proposed in recent months. Lazarus said he believes officials are ready to agree to a three-tier approach to solve the area’s traffic problem.
The first-tier pattern would route traffic south on Ocean Boulevard, turn vehicles right on Kings Highway, left at Harrelson Boulevard and let drivers continue in whichever direction they’d like from there.
If traffic on U.S. 17 Bypass were to get too heavy, Lazarus said, traffic on Harrelson would be directed across the bridge, along George Bishop Parkway to U.S. 501, where those wishing to return to the beach would be directed onto the bypass heading north to 29th Avenue North, which would bring drivers back to Ocean Boulevard.
If that pattern also gets overwhelmed with traffic, Lazarus said S.C. 31 would likely have to be used. That pattern would route drivers from George Bishop Parkway to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto the bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
“Right now Myrtle Beach is wanting to [traffic] come back to the boulevard by using 29th,” Lazarus said. “I’m not sure if that’s the best idea, but it’s their city and if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine.”
“My understanding is using [S.C. Highway] 31 is a last-resort option for state police,” Lazarus said.
S.C. Highway Patrol officials have said they are concerned with the highway becoming a racetrack and leading to fatalities. The traffic patterns would be effective from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. beginning the Thursday before Memorial Day and last through at least Saturday night.
Grand Strand officials and police have been working to increase safety during Memorial Day weekend – including an originally proposed 40-mile traffic loop – after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach this May.
Tens of thousands of people are on the Grand Strand that weekend to participate in Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Myrtle Beach Military Appreciation Days or to enjoy a three-day weekend at the beach. Bikefest began in Atlantic Beach in the 1980s but festival-goers now spill out along the Grand Strand.
Myrtle Beach originally proposed a 40-mile traffic loop that would send traffic from Ocean Boulevard onto Kings Highway, south to S.C. 544, west to S.C. 31, north to S.C. 22, east to U.S. 17 and back south to Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach officials have said they need to get the traffic out of the city limits to ease congestion on Ocean Boulevard, while leaders in surrounding areas say the city’s proposed 40-mile loop could create problems for areas that usually don’t see any traffic from bikers.
The three tiers of traffic patterns Lazarus mentioned essentially contain the traffic to Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen said the city’s officials have been working out details of their safety plan for next year internally and with other jurisdictions and he hopes to have the traffic pattern finalized by the next task force meeting on Dec. 1. Pedersen said he did not want to discuss the details of the traffic pattern.
“At this point we’ve got a basic agreement that we’ll talk about that the task force will review,” Pedersen said. “The goal is to have [the traffic pattern] finalized that week.”
The task force, which is being facilitated by Director of Horry County Emergency Management Randy Webster, is comprised of local managers and law enforcement, as well as S.C. Highway Patrol.
The officials met briefly as a large group in October and agreed to work in smaller “working groups” leading up to the December meeting to come up with specifics on traffic solutions as well as managing communications between jurisdictions and coordinating check-in and lodging of officers from other jurisdictions.
It’s been proposed that all out-of-town officers report to Coastal Carolina University to check in, receive training and possibly get their lodging information.
Myrtle Beach’s plan also included instituting a dedicated emergency lane and only allowing one-way southbound traffic on Ocean Boulevard between 29th Avenue North and Kings Highway. The plans also call for creating traffic chutes for both the north- and south-bound traffic on Kings Highway at 29th Avenue North.
Myrtle Beach strategic planning unit
Myrtle Beach also has created a strategic planning unit within the police department comprised of one captain and one lieutenant whose primary assignment will be to work through the “nitty gritty” details of the city’s public safety plan and work to implement it, Pedersen said.
Command-level officers had until Wednesday to apply to be part of the new team, said Capt. David Knipes.
“We’re not taking any officers off of the street for this,” he said. “We’re reassigning some command-level personnel.”
Those officers will work with staff members from the finance, budget, public works, parks, fire and purchasing departments to go over every detail of implementing the city’s safety plan in May.
“That will be their assignment between now and May,” Pedersen said. “There are a thousand logistical things that need to be worked out. ... There’s a lot of training that happens between now and May. And also for the officers [from other jurisdictions] that will be coming here. We want to all be singing off of the same sheet music.”
Pedersen said the unit will remain in place after Memorial Day and the officers will work on things such as implementing new law enforcement technology or other new programs.
“There are a number of things they will do in addition to [Memorial Day weekend planning],” Pedersen said.
Using accommodations tax money
Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach were the only municipalities to take advantage of a last-minute budget amendment the S.C. General Assembly passed in June that allows jurisdictions to reallocate up to one-third of accommodations tax money for law enforcement.
Myrtle Beach will be using 15 percent of the accommodations tax revenue it receives to pay for additional law enforcement during Memorial Day weekend, which is expected to be about $280,000, Pedersen said. The city is expecting to spend about $1.9 million on police services that weekend.
The city will use money collected from a 2 mill property tax increase City Council approved in September, which is expected to be about $665,000, in addition to the $300,000 that already had been budgeted for public safety that weekend.
That money will be used to pay for equipment such as barriers and message boards as well as overtime pay for local personnel and a per diem for all of the officers.
Surfside Beach requested to use the full allowed amount of accommodations tax money, town administrator Micki Fellner said. If the accommodations tax figures are similar to what the city received last year, that could result in about $55,000 reallocated to pay for law enforcement.
Fellner said that money will be used to pay for the overtime of its 21 officers as well as to bring additional police from other jurisdictions into the town to help with law enforcement – and also to feed them during the weekend.
Fellner said she didn’t want to specify a dollar amount for the town’s cost to increase public safety in May.
“It’s going to depend on how much we get back in A-tax money,” she said. “And it’s going to depend on how much is going to be required of us [in the region’s safety plan].”
Fellner said before this year, Surfside Beach didn’t have a lot of crowds or very heavy traffic during Memorial Day weekend. But the crowds were bigger this year, prompting the town to use police overtime to handle the additional need for law enforcement. She hopes to bring in 10 to 20 outside officers to help next May.
Money also will be used to pay for traffic calming devices to discourage tourists from driving through residential areas, additional body cameras for officers and LED message boards to share information with drivers.
Lazarus and North Myrtle Beach City Manager Mike Mahaney said their jurisdictions did not request to use any accommodations tax money through the budget amendment.
“I’ve received pretty good indication that the state is going to pay for their own officers and meals” when they assist during Memorial Day weekend, Lazarus said. “[Expenses] won’t be much more than we’ve had in the past.”
The next task force meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 1 on Coastal Carolina University’s campus.