062917 Roads: Nearby projects won’t relieve local traffic
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Traffic backs up on the Waccamaw River bridge during a storm.

Roads: Nearby projects won’t relieve local traffic

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

That’s what County Council Member Steve Goggans told the crowd at the Waccamaw Library last week during a meeting held to discuss the future of roads on the Waccamaw Neck. With Goggans were state Rep. Lee Hewitt and Mark Hoeweler, the senior staff member for the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study.

The meeting was organized by the Women’s GOP Morning Group, but there’s been a change in the group’s partisanship and title. “We have decided to use the Morning Group as an issues-based organization. Not Republican, not Democrat,” group member Marla Hamby said. “Nothing other than Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet and Georgetown.”

One project discussed was the Southern Evacuation Lifeline (SELL), which has no direct effect on the Waccamaw Neck, Hoeweler said. “None of the proposed routes are an alternative to U.S. 17,” he said.

Once known as the 701 Connector, the SELL was born in the mid-1990s as a way for the western part of Horry County to have better access to amenities available on the eastern side. “With time that has passed and opposition from certain groups, it morphed,” Hoeweler said.

The connector became SELL amidst poor evacuation conditions following Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Based on a study for evacuation that looked 20 years in the future, “what we were showing was that even the people that wanted to get out, given 24 hours notice, could not get out.”

According to Hoeweler, the only real effect for the area would be if people traveling along the coast were to bypass Highway 17 and use the SELL route along with Highways 701, 22 and 501, as an alternative. For everyday traffic, the SELL would impact approximately 15 percent of people traveling between Charleston County and North Carolina. SELL is not a fix, traffic would still funnel through the Waccamaw Neck on Highway 17.

A possible solution to the seemingly hopeless issues on Highway 17 could be to extend the Carolina Bays Parkway (also known as S.C. 31) to Highway 701. Georgetown County has allocated funds in its capital improvement plan to upgrade Brick Chimney Road in Georgetown as the first step toward creating a bypass around the city. “If these facilities are in fact put in, then you could effectively create a bypass around the Waccamaw Neck,” Goggans said.

This Highway 17 alternative could feasibly reduce the volume of through traffic, but it would involve extending the Carolina Bays Parkway through the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

An extension for Carolina Bays Parkway was considered in the early 1990s, when a feasibility study was done. “It was determined there was not enough traffic on the south end to warrant planning that route,” Hoeweler said. There was also a negotiation at the time between environmental interests and those working on the project in Horry County, he said. “Rumor has it a deal was struck. What effectively was done was Horry County was asked to choose Georgetown County’s future over Horry’s immediate future. That’s why 31 is truncated where it is now.”

Although he wasn’t on the panel, state Sen. Stephen Goldfinch attended the meeting and offered his solution to the detour projects. “What we have to figure out is how to do it in the shortest amount of time, for the least amount of money,” he said. “Without interruption from third party environmental groups, who try to stop it on a regular basis.”

Goldfinch believes environmental groups are greatly responsible for holding back infrastructure progress in Georgetown County. Removing the groups’ ability to ask the courts for an automatic stay while permits are appealed and shifting permit authority from the federal government to the state will help. He encouraged former Gov. Nikki Haley to take over the permitting process in the past, but she would not do so due to the budgetary constraints.

It would actually cost the state more for road projects if it were to take over permitting because of paying for compliance with federal regulations on top of the actual cost for the project. “But at least we’ll have them in-house and I can call somebody and say, ‘Why isn’t this moving,’” Goldfinch said.

Goggans believes construction of SELL and other possible projects could begin within a decade. “The state roads bill was passed this year and so there are beginning to be funding sources for some of these facilities,” he said. “The time is right to get some of this stuff implemented.”

Hewitt reiterated the importance of public engagement in the road system. “There are groups here that don’t want any of these roads,” he said. “And they’re going to work hard to stop any new roads from being built so it’s important we have public comment.”

“We have to fix our road problems or we are going to be in dire straits in 10 years,” Goldfinch said.

The Grand Strand Area Transportation Study will take comments on its long-range plan at the Murrells Inlet Community Center on July 20 at noon.

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