Hundreds of thousands more people will make their way to the Myrtle Beach area this week for various Memorial Day weekend celebrations and the annual Atlantic Beach Bikefest, which officially kicks off Friday.
The 23-mile traffic loop will return this year along with beefed up police presence along the Grand Strand. Police have plans to make access to Myrtle Beach International Airport easier – for motorists and taxicabs – and have developed an interactive map to help everyone navigate through the crowds.
In addition to exercising good safety judgment and looking twice for bikers before pulling into a road, here are the five things that locals and tourists need to know about the event.
1. Traffic loop returns
The 23.1-mile traffic loop – which debuted last year – will again wind its way across the Grand Strand aiming to ease congestion in Myrtle Beach. Officials also hope the loop eliminates large gatherings and the possibility of trouble, such as the deadly shootings that occurred during the 2014 event. The loop goes into effect from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
The loop will begin at 29th Avenue North and U.S. 17 Bypass and run to Ocean Boulevard, then south to Kings Highway to Harrelson Boulevard and across the Intracoastal Waterway to Waccamaw Boulevard. The route then runs to S.C. 501 and 31 where an interchange will allow drivers to go south, north or to Conway. Another exit will be at Grissom Parkway and 29th Avenue North. Ocean Boulevard will be one-way during loop hours.
2. Airport access, tow truck and taxicab travels
Because the loop will block some access to hotels, businesses and the Myrtle Beach airport, police have planned for ways around the traffic circle. Cab drivers, chauffeurs and other motorists needing to access the airport during loop hours should use the Harrelson Boulevard exit off of U.S. 17 Bypass. Those north of the exit should travel south on U.S. 17 Bypass to the Farrow Parkway exit where motorists can loop back around onto U.S. 17 Bypass north to the Harrelson exit.
Leaving the airport, drivers will need to turn right towards Kings Highway.
Tow-truck drivers, EMS, fire and safety officials should also have an easier time navigating the loop this year now that they’ve been given placards provided from the police department. Event staff will be at the avenue access points on Ocean Boulevard to let wreckers through this year. During loop hours event staff will be at all of the street ends along Ocean Boulevard.
3. Some rentals available but filling up fast
Memorial Day week is usually one of the biggest tourism draws in the county, and next weekend’s preliminary vacation rental numbers are up compared to last year. That means there’s still some time to rent a nightly property, but spaces are filling up quickly.
The number of hotel and condo rentals for Memorial Day weekend are up about seven percent from last year’s holiday weekend, and that number will probably keep growing. Taylor Damonte, director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University, said the number of spaces available for Friday through Sunday are dependent on one uncontrollable factor: weather.
“So with good weather, that will be a very strong occupancy weekend compared to last year,” Damonte said.
4. New crime-fighting technology to debut
Myrtle Beach police are planning to use stationary license plate readers to help alert them to when vehicles linked to criminal cases enter or exit the city. Police said the cameras cover 42 lanes of traffic entering or exiting the city at eight major gateways.
The department continues to work on a mapping application (app) to help tourists and residents know how to get around during the traffic-congested holiday weekend. The app will include an interactive city map linked through a QR (Quick Reader) code that can be accessed on any smartphone.
5. Beefed up police presence all across the Strand
Like last year, public safety officials from several different state and local agencies will be out in force during the week and through the weekend. Horry County, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach and the S.C. Highway Patrol are sending out additional officers to help with the crowds, which swell to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. About 600 more officers from 41 state agencies – including Coastal Carolina and Clarendon County police – are expected to patrol the streets and manage traffic.
Anyone with questions should visit the Bikefest website for more information.
Myrtle Beach police arrested or cited about 300 fewer people last year during Memorial Day weekend than 2014, according to statistics released by the department. Horry County police issued 173 more warnings last year, but cited about the same number of people. Officials hope increased police presence – along with a Bikefest commercial from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce urging visitors to obey laws – reduces the amount of crime over the weekend.
Visitors and locals are asked to have patience in the traffic, follow all laws and watch for motorcycles to prevent any fatalities during this year’s Atlantic Beach Bikefest. Anyone with questions should visit the Bikefest website for more information.
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN