As tourist traffic heats up along 501, officials hope widening projects will loosen future congestion

Grand Strand

CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — As the weather heats up along the Grand Strand, so does tourism season.

That means more traffic, leaving some drivers frustrated with delays.

South Carolina Highway Patrol told News13 Monday it’s been seeing higher volumes lately, and is ramping up patrol along popular tourist routes like Highway 501.

“If I’m looking for something to talk to with customers, I’ll be like ‘dude that road,'” Isaiah Cook said, who is a local driver and barista. “And they’re like, ‘Yeah, that road, it’s awful.’ Everyone hates it, like universally.”

SCDOT and Horry County hope a $41 million project will help to ease some of the congestion in the future.

The two phase project seeks to widen a busy stretch of Highway 501 to six lanes.

“If they’re highly traveled, they get congested easily, those projects do move up on the list of importance,” public information coordinator for SCDOT Lauren Roeder said. “And Horry County is certainly a very busy area that attracts a lot of tourists especially in these summer months.”

Phase 1 plans to widen Highway 501 southbound from Gardner Lacy Road to Highway 31. Work there started early 2021. Under Phase II, the road would widen both ways from Gardner Lacy to Highway 544.

According to Horry County, the construction for the whole project will done by fall 2024. SCDOT says the southbound widening from Gardner Lacy to S.C. 31 is set to be done early summer 2023.

“Plus the fact there will be a frontage road put in on both sides,” Horry County district 8 council member Johnny Vaught said. “I think extra lanes as well as the frontage road in there will make a lot of difference.”

Council member Vaught said additional road construction would help to further ease congestion. He said a proposed Lake Busbee Bypass would loosen traffic getting through Conway, but the proposal still needs funding.

“If we can get the funding to do that road, it will eliminate a lot of those problems of getting through Conway,” Vaught said. “That’s a major deal we’re working on right now.”

Vaught said traffic and activity have gotten busy earlier than usual as area hotels experience high demand.

Ahead of peak tourist season though, the City of Myrtle Beach is working to repave six roads, two of which are already done.

The City of Conway, meanwhile, has noticed an increase in foot traffic lately. The city is working to encourage that, by doing sidewalk work. It’s also working with CCU on ‘Teal Alley’.

“So many businesses that are one-by-one, side-by-side in the downtown area, so it’s important to have these sidewalks,” public information officer for the city Brooke Holden said.

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