If you’re in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend next year and want to move around town overnight, city officials encourage you to use U.S. Highway 17 Bypass.
A 23-mile traffic loop will be in place from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. beginning May 21 and going through at least May 24 in an attempt to keep vehicles moving and ease congestion in the city, which Myrtle Beach officials have said lead to street parties and lawlessness.
A Bikefest Task Force approved the traffic loop during a meeting Monday and the Coastal Alliance – a group of administrators that represent Horry County and municipalities along the Grand Strand – passed a motion Wednesday supporting the task force’s efforts.
Now officials will work on ironing out the details to ensure that the loop operates smoothly and residents will be able to move around the city, Myrtle Beach manager John Pedersen said.
The traffic loop routes drivers from 29th Avenue North on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
“The bypass will be the best way to travel during the weekend,” Myrtle Beach police Capt. Amy Prock said.
Grand Strand officials have been working since Memorial Day to find ways to improve safety in the area after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach that weekend.
Tens of thousands of people travel to the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend to participate in Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Myrtle Beach Military Appreciation Days or to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach.
The 23-mile loop will have barrels, cones, barricades and bike racks along the route and be manned by city police and staff as well as the S.C. Highway Patrol.
“It’s about half and half in the city and outside the city,” Pedersen said. “Most of the [route] outside the city will be manned by highway patrol. It will be our officers primarily in the city.”
Myrtle Beach police officers, private security members hired by the city and city staff members will man the loop in city limits, Pedersen said.
Prock said it will take “in excess of at least 100 officers and event staff” to man the city’s portion of the loop.
The 23-mile loop is a smaller version of a loop that would have extended as far south as S.C. 544 and as far north as S.C. 22. Officials in North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Horry County argued that that traffic pattern would send traffic to areas that don’t typically have to deal with the influx of people in town that weekend.
“We would like to move forward using this approach as the planning tool,” said Horry County Emergency Management Director Randy Webster, adding that the traffic pattern is not etched in stone and could change as Memorial Day approaches.
Navigating the loop
Beginning at 10 p.m. on the Thursday before the holiday, law enforcement will begin enforcing the traffic loop, though there will be opportunities for drivers to get out of the loop if needed.
Drivers will not be forced to turn onto S.C. 31 north, but could continue onto U.S. 501 heading west or head south on S.C. 31, Pedersen said. He said there is the potential that drivers who continue on U.S. 501 could try to turn around and head back into the city.
“All traffic heading into the city on 501 would come as far as Grissom Parkway when they would have to turn left,” Pedersen said. “They would be directed to 29th Avenue [where they’d have to turn right] and then they’d be back in the loop.”
Pedersen said there are no turnarounds on the nearly six-mile stretch of S.C. 31 in the loop and no exits between U.S. 501 and Grissom Parkway. That portion of the loop still would be manned by state highway patrol.
“It’s not an interstate, but it’s built to be like an interstate,” Pedersen said. “Highway patrol will be manning  because they want to make sure it doesn’t turn into a speedway.”
Drivers could choose to continue north on S.C. 31 at the Grissom Parkway exit. They would not, however, be allowed to head west on International Drive.
Drivers would be allowed to head either north or south on U.S. 17 Bypass from Grissom Parkway.
“The bypass will not be closed at all,” Pedersen said.
Pedersen said drivers could continue on the bypass heading south if they didn’t want to get back to Ocean Boulevard.
Drivers on U.S. 17 Bypass will not be able to get onto George Bishop Parkway heading west – those on-ramps will be closed – but the city may need to leave the ramps heading east on Harrelson Boulevard open.
Prock said people have to be able to access the Myrtle Beach International Airport and they are working with airport authorities to ensure that happens.
Prock said there will be barricades or cones at all of the intersections and curb cuts at least along the part of the route that’s within city limits and many of those will have officers there to enforce the integrity of the traffic loop.
“The areas where we’re concerned there may be issues or turn-arounds, they will be manned,” she said.
Officers and barricades would be set up throughout Myrtle Beach’s residential areas along the loop, Pedersen said, something that south Myrtle Beach residents told officials was incredibly important during a neighborhood watch meeting on Tuesday night.
Pedersen said the south Myrtle Beach residential area will be surrounded by barricades, with barricades along Kings Highway from Harrelson Boulevard to Ocean Boulevard as well as there being barricades along Ocean Boulevard.
“We’re all resigned to it,” South Myrtle Beach neighborhood watch organizer Craig Teller said of being surrounded by unruly crowds – and the traffic loop – that weekend. “They’re going to barricade us in to keep unwanted traffic out. ... And they plan to increase police presence on South Yaupon [Drive]. That should help significantly.”
Pedersen said having the Coastal Alliance support the traffic plan was the first step in figuring out the best ways to implement the loop. He said that, as of now, he didn’t anticipate officers allowing drivers in and out of neighborhoods along the loop on a case-by-case basis.
“There will be places that anyone can get out of the loop,” he said. “There are some things that we’ll have to work out between now and then to make provisions for special cases ... but we have to maintain the integrity of the loop, or there’s no point having it.”
Teller said Pedersen, police Chief Warren Gall, Mayor John Rhodes and other City Council members attended Tuesday’s meeting to explain the traffic loop and other plans for Memorial Day weekend and to hear concerns and answer questions.
“There are still opportunities for tweaks [to the plan],” Pedersen said Wednesday. “At last night’s [neighborhood watch] meeting, residents voiced some concerns about nuances that we hadn’t thought about. ... We’re going to try to address those issues as well.”
Teller said he and other residents at the meeting weren’t concerned with being able to get in and out of their neighborhood during the time the traffic loop was in place.
“They’re all pretty much like me and like my wife – we’re older,” he said. “For us, going out after 10 p.m. is not an issue. Especially on that weekend. Our concerns were how good the barricades will be an if they’ll really be able to keep people out.”
When the city unveiled a preliminary plan in September, encouraging business owners – at businesses such as hotels and gas stations – to invest in hiring private security to ensure their properties don’t give those looking to cause trouble the opportunity to do so.
“Most of the business owners understand what they’re being asked,” Prock said. “There are ordinance in place that say businesses owners have to ensure their properties are secured when their businesses are closed.”
She said they have been in contact with the management at Coastal Grand mall – which closes at 10 p.m., when the traffic loop begins – to let the shopping center’s employees know that they won’t be able to leave using Harrelson Boulevard. They will be asked to use Pine Island Road instead, Prock said.
“The more information we can get out, the better it is,” Prock said. “We’ll continuously make sure we’re addressing a lot of the concerns.”
Pedersen said the city plans to set up meetings with hoteliers and business owners along Kings Highway to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to ensuring safety for visitors and residents next year.
“Everyone knows [the traffic loop is] planned from 10 to 2 [Memorial Day weekend],” he said. “There will be some inconvenience to the public. It’s unfortunate, but it’s unavoidable.”