Tracking growth on the Grand Strand and Pee Dee’s highways and intersections

Growth Tracker

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – News13 is taking a closer look at the role growth plays in local road projects. 

According to Horry County’s IMAGINE 2040 comprehensive plan, the population in Horry County is expected to grow to nearly 600,000 people by 2040.  As more people move to the Grand Strand, News13 Anchor Annette Peagler did some research to find out how the South Carolina Department of Transportation decides on highway improvements and how the projects are prioritized.

We checked in with drivers first in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee to see how their commutes faired.  Tim Gibson lives in Longs but travels to Myrtle Beach often for work.

“One of the highways that I frequent is 501. I ride down 17,” Gibson explained.  “Traffic can get really congested on 17.  It probably can take you a little over an hour coming out of South Carolina and going into North Carolina.”

The congestion causes Gibson to plan accordingly. “I think sometimes there needs to be another main vein somewhere, kind of a relief for the traffic because us local drivers, we have to skip around,” Gibson said.

Sky 13 shows a typical afternoon on Highway 501 in Carolina Forest by Tanger Outlets. The highway can fill up fast, along with other main highways in our area: highways 17, 31, and 544 heading into Conway.

Pete Poore, director of communications from the South Carolina Department of Transportation, says SCDOT facilitates traffic studies to determine which areas are priorities for widening and improving intersections.

“There’s economic development involved.  There’s the safety, of course, we do traffic studies on crashes, fatalities, and injuries so that plays into it.  Once those criteria are examined and the studies are done.  That’s how congestion problems are known,” Poore explained.  

Currently, SCDOT has roughly 10 highway improvement projects on its docket, locally.  Construction on 17 bypass from Shetland Boulevard to the Backgate Interchange is scheduled in late 2021.  17 business intersection improvements at Atlantic Avenue, Garden City Connector, Inlet Square Boulevard and Tadlock Drive are scheduled for the summer of 2023 and widening of a 3-mile section on US 501 south bound from Gardner Lacy Road to SC 31 has already started.

“The other one on 501 is from Gardener Lacey Road and 544.  That two, is a 3-mile project and we’re anticipating that one to begin the Fall of next year, “Poore said. 

Other projects include widening from Horry County line to the BUS split, 17 bypass from the Backgate Interchange to Murrells Inlet, and 17 Bypass from 29th Avenue N to Grissom Parkway.

Horry County Planning and Zoning is also working to keep up with the growth trends as more people decide to relocate to the Grand Strand. 

“It’s a retirement destination. And in comparison to the cost of living where people are moving from…it’s much more affordable to live here,” said Lee Kane, Principal Planner form Horry County Planning and Zoning.

The highway and road improvements are prioritized by funding and they range from $1.85 million to $36 million dollars.  A number of them are funded through Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, also known as GSTATS and the Horry County Ride III Sales Tax.

“The extra 1 percent sales tax you pay in Horry County, that’s where that money comes from,” Poore explained.

The projects vary in construction time, but most of these projects will start construction in the next 1 to 2 years.  Drivers like Gibson will have to wait just a little longer for the improvements.

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