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‘Funding is our biggest concern’: Highway 31 extension still needs money in NC

One day, Grand Strand drivers will be able to go from S.C. 707 all the way into Brunswick County in North Carolina without ever hitting a stop light.

But that day won’t be any time soon. The northbound extension is still in the early process of road building and the construction leg of the project on the North Carolina side still lacks funding.

Still, the project is in a pre-design phase to extend the Carolina Bays Parkway into North Carolina with the purpose of giving communities in Horry County and Brunswick County a faster alternative for traveling along the coastline, according to the NC Department of Transportation website.

NCDOT Deputy Division Engineer Chad Kimes said finding the money to pay for the road construction is going to be a challenge, but getting the project completed is a top priority for the southeastern portion of the state.

Currently, Kimes said NCDOT is taking the lead on the environmental study to influence which corridors the road would eventually take and what would be affected by it. This part is expected to take about two more years to complete and is being handled entirely by North Carolina.

Environmental Impacts?

Given the scope of the project, NCDOT is having to complete one of the most rigorous environmental surveys available. The law requires that an environmental study identifies any impacts the road would have on nature and humans in order to get federal dollars.

Kimes said NCDOT is looking at soil types, wetland types, stream flow, the types for plants and animals in the area and the proximity to homes to determine where it would work best.

“These corridors will develop how many wetlands are impacted, how many residential houses are impacted, how many commercial properties are impacted,” Kimes said. “All environmental and human impacts in these corridors, that way we can start comparing these corridors.”

At the end of creating corridors for the project, Kimes said public information sessions would be held in North Carolina and South Carolina to present possible routes for the road and to hear folks’ concerns.

These meetings would probably be scheduled for later this year. The responses would go into the final reports from the environmental study.

Once the environmental survey is complete by 2021, it would go onto design and construction. When the project would ultimately begin and when it would be planned to be finished are undetermined at this time.

Funding for the road

But before then, the matter of funding still needs to be addressed. While the portion being built in Horry County, South Carolina is paid for through the RIDE III program, the part to be built in Brunswick County, North Carolina is still looking for funding.

Kimes is hopeful that North Carolina will pay for the project once it sees the corridors are completed, and that South Carolina has already funded its portion.

“Hopefully having those corridor chosen by that time, we will submit this project and keeping our fingers crossed, North Carolina picks up funding for our portion as well,” Kimes said. “Depending on what year it is funded, we would start design pretty quickly, and we would have it ready for construction whenever those funds are allow.”

NCDOT and the South Carolina DOT would build their respective portions. Kimes said he doesn’t think the interstate work would cause any problems or delays as long as both agencies communicate well.

Still, getting the money for the North Carolina portion is important so the road is completed on schedule and in its planned entirety. He doesn’t want to see SCDOT get its portion built well in advance of the road being completed in North Carolina.

“Funding is our biggest concern. We have to find a way to fund this in North Carolina,” Kimes said. “With the project being fully funded in South Carolina, it would be difficult for them to build their section in their state and then tie in to ours in North Carolina and we’re not able to accept all that traffic. So timing is probably going to be the most difficult thing to address and that comes down to funding.”

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