072717 Traffic: Plan is long range, needs are more immediate
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Mark Hoeweler, center, answers questions at last week’s forum.
Traffic: Plan is long range, needs are more immediate

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Plans for improving the area’s roads over the next 20 years look much like the plans they have seen before, said people who took a close look at maps. And maps weren’t what some of them were looking for when they attended the review of the 2040 regional transportation plan last week. They said they wanted to see some action.

The Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, which allocates federal and state funds to local projects, is preparing a mandated Metropolitan Transportation Plan for projects through 2040. A draft was released for public comment last week, and that drew about 100 people to the Murrells Inlet Community Center. It was the largest turnout of four comment sessions, said Mark Hoeweler, the director of the transportation study.

Many were from the area around Prince Creek on the border of Georgetown and Horry counties, and they had one principal concern: the intersection of McDowell Shortcut and Tournament Boulevard. Improvement to the four-way stop is estimated at $11.3 million.

Donnie Tucker thought that was the purpose of last week’s session. He left in disgust when he found it was only one of scores of projects up for review. “Somebody’s going to get killed – or shot” at the intersection, he said.

“It was a very focused crowd,” Hoeweler said.

Al Hitchcock, a restaurant owner and board member at the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District, studied the 2040 plans closely. “It’s the same thing they’ve been talking about for years. They just put it on paper,” he said.

Nothing was new, he said.

But putting the projects on paper is the first step toward getting them funded, Hoeweler said.

Georgetown County put several projects on the list, but doesn’t expect them to get built. Officials said they hope to be able to gain access to funds, but change projects as needs evolve.

Hoeweler said the system doesn’t work that way. Although the county was allowed to shift an intersection project from Litchfield Country Club to Waverly Road and Petigru Drive – and shift a $1.3 million allocation – that was possible only because the intersection projects were fully funded, he said.

There are always more road projects than available funds. Requests from local governments that make up the transportation study’s policy committee are rated. “You can’t use them as a placeholder,” Hoeweler said.

That was good news for Dave Philips, president of the Willbrook Road Maintenance District. Widening Willbrook Boulevard and Kings River Road to four lanes is a project the county placed on the 2040 list. It ranked seventh in the 2021-30 time frame. “I’d have to say we’re against it,” Phillips said.

Lew Patton was looking for more immediate relief in Murrells Inlet. He takes back roads to avoid Bypass 17 heading north from his home on Wachesaw Road. “We need relief on Waccamaw Neck for through traffic,” he said.

Widening Bypass 17 is eighth on the list for projects in 2031-40. That might help, said Sandra Bundy, an inlet resident. “North Myrtle Beach doesn’t have the problems we do because they’ve got the six lanes.”

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