Conway plans to bury downtown power lines first, then tackle those on U.S. 501

Conway plans to bury power lines downtown in an attempt to improve its image.
Conway plans to bury power lines downtown in an attempt to improve its image.

Conway leaders admit they have an image problem.

As travelers come into town on U.S. 501, they pass fast food restaurants, cheap motels and convenience stores.

One of the busiest gateway intersections is where 501, U.S. 378 and U.S. 701 meet. The spot holds a car dealership, a Subway and a vacant building that for years housed a KFC. Barring a wrong turn there, visitors head to the beach without any inkling about the historic downtown and Riverwalk just a mile away.

How do they solve that problem? For some leaders, infrastructure is part of the answer. Earlier this month, a majority of city council members supported burying the Fourth Avenue power lines all the way to the Third Avenue intersection. They also said lines along Wright Boulevard should be entombed to the busy 501/378/701 intersection.

“It would serve as a more inviting appearance to attract visitors from the heavy traffic on 501,” City Administrator Bill Graham said. “A more inviting front door, I guess you could say.”

Council was divided on the issue. Not because leaders don’t support the project, but because some wanted to see power lines along 501 buried before those on Fourth Avenue.

“I like the idea of having a corridor that sort of shows who we are and is just welcoming,” said Councilwoman Barbara Blain-Olds. “The reality is I don’t know anybody who’s traveling on 501 from Conway to Myrtle Beach who is going to change their mind because of the effectiveness of our lights. ... The view that people get of Conway is drawn on 501 and we don’t look good at all.”

Councilman Randy Alford echoed Blain-Olds and said putting off the U.S. 501 lighting work was “getting it out of order.”

“They’re not going to turn off because of the intersection,” he said.

Conway has been burying utility lines for more than 10 years. Santee Cooper customers in the city pay a fee on their power bills for underground wiring projects. The utility matches part of that contribution. About $900,000 goes into a fund for covering lines each year.

In October, city council members agreed to move forward with the final utility burial in the historic downtown area. A 1,700-foot stretch of Fourth Avenue power lines — along with other utility wires — will go underground. The project will cost about $1.2 million and eliminate the avenue’s overhead lines from Kingston Street to Beaty Street. There’s even talk of adding decorative street lights along the Kingston Lake Bridge. Construction should begin in 2016 and take about a year.

What happens after that is what council members decided this month. They opted to bury the final Third and Fouth avenue lines, then continue up Wright Boulevard to the 501/701/378 junction. After that’s completed, then the focus will be on U.S. 501. Graham said the downtown projects will keep the program busy through at least 2018 and cost about $4.6 million.

Councilman William Goldfinch and Mayor Alys Lawson insist the power line projects could be a shot in the arm to the stretch of Fourth Avenue closest to U.S. 501.

“That really encourages somebody to come in,” Goldfinch said. “We’ve put the money and time and effort into cleaning up that area. It sure would be a nice enticement to get development all the way out to 501.”

Lawson concurred.

“You could create economic development interest in there because the city’s putting in infrastructure,” she said.

Councilman Larry White, who cast the deciding vote, said it makes sense to complete the Fourth and Third avenue stretches before tackling the juggernaut that is 501.

“We’ve already started it downtown,” he said. “Let’s just finish it.”

Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.