Bridges and bypasses: Why is it taking so long to get Highway 31 extended?

A portion of the new bridge recently built across the Intracoastal Waterway must be repaved before the southern extension of S.C. 31 to S.C. 707 will open to drivers.

While there is no exact completion date, S.C. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary of Engineering Leland Colvin said the road is now expected to open by this fall.

“That’s certainly been a frustrating project, there is no doubt,” Colvin said.

The delays are due to the bridge having surface issues that would impact the long-term use.

“Long story short, we got some overhead signs, guard rails and pavement markers to complete,” Colvin said, “but the biggest item to be done is there is a portion of the bridge deck over the Intracoastal Waterway that we got to do a complete deck replacement for the full width of the bridge for about 600 feet.”

Structurally, the bridge is fine, officials said, but the surface of the road is cracking faster than it should. Since it affects the overall lifespan of the bridge, it needed to be redone.

SCDOT contracted Flatiron Construction to build two miles of the roadway. To help finish the project, a second bridge-building company was brought in by Flatiron.

Flatiron could not be reached for comment.

The Highway 31 extension was approved as part of RIDE II in 2006 with construction beginning in late 2013. It has taken longer than anyone has wanted, Colvin said. The delays will cost the contractor millions.

“The contractor is in liquidated damages due to being behind schedule to the tune of $3 million,” Colvin said. “Any rework being done there has no payment set aside, so they’re paying it on their own nickel.”

However, the loop ramp at S.C. 544 will open at the end of June, making it easier for travelers from Conway to get on Highway 31, Colvin said.

Crews work on the Highway 31 Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway near Socastee. Extending the corridor to SC 707 has taken longer than expected. The new bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway needs to be resurfaced before the road opens and is not expected to be completed until the fall of 2019. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

Northern extension

As the southern extension is coming to an end, the much more ambitious northern expansion into North Carolina is gearing up to be built.

This project is a part of RIDE III and will take Highway 31 up into Shallotte, North Carolina. SCDOT will build about 5 miles of the road while North Carolina will build the other 14, according to an NCDOT document.

On Tuesday, Horry County Council member Harold Worley rebuked the SCDOT in regards to the northern extension of Highway 31. He said a constituent told him the road could take up to a decade to build due hold-ups by North Carolina’s DOT.

“Here we are paying for our own roads, we give them the money, they skim off 25 percent to build roads in Greenville and Charleston. I guarantee you that there is going to be road construction in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville and Spartanburg, but here in Horry County, everything is pushed back and I don’t like it at all,” Worley said Tuesday. “We could be building roads ourselves.”

Worley was specifically talking about building the RIDE projects, not all road construction in Horry.

Colvin said he called Horry County on Wednesday to clarify the issue. He said North Carolina will be handling the environmental study required to build the road. This is a lengthy process, especially for the 19 miles of road that will need to be built. It requires the most thorough study before work can begin.

Still, he hopes the northern extension will not linger on like the southern expansion. Colvin said the federal government is helping DOTs build roads faster under infrastructure improvement plans.

“We do expect this to take another two to two-and-a-half years until we complete the environmental process,” he said. “The good news is the new president is streamlining. So this falls under a federal decision. There are time limit metrics established by our federal partners.”

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