Study outlines $53 million worth of upgrades for Highway 17 in Georgetown County

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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — A sales tax, impact fees, a variety of state and federal grant programs, and even a toll road, are among funding ideas mentioned in a study recommending more than $53 million dollars in safety upgrades and other improvements along a busy stretch of Highway 17 in northern Georgetown County.

The US 17 Corridor Study, conducted by the Columbia, S.C.-based consulting firm AECOM for the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study, was completed in December. It contains recommendations for near-term, intermediate, and long-term projects through 2040 that will be presented at a public meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. July 14 at the Murrells Inlet Community Center.

The study focused on the 19-mile section of Highway 17 just north of Hobcaw Road to the Highway 17 bypass near the Georgetown and Horry County line, recommending solutions beyond traditional road-widening that would be costly and have major environmental impacts.

The upgrades are “extremely important” as officials try to address safety concerns and keep up with continued growth, Daniel Newquist, transportation programs coordinator for the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments, said.

According to a summary of the study, which looked at traffic patterns and volumes between 2016 and 2018, the average daily traffic volume during the peak summer season varied from 30,500 vehicles per day on the southern end to 47,400 on the northern end. Those numbers are expected to grow to 46,200 and 71,900, respectively, by 2040, the study said.

The study also found 1,133 crashes, including seven that resulted in deaths.  Of those crashes, about half were rear-end collisions linked to access management, congestion and speeding, the study said.

The goal, according to the study, is to keep traffic flowing while maintaining access to businesses and providing safe access for bicycles and pedestrians. One safety proposal in $2.5 million worth of near-term projects listed in the study would expand a signal-timing system along the northernmost stretch of the highway.

“We want to incorporate that north of Brookgreen Gardens, north of Murrells Inlet,” Newquist said. “It’s currently in place in the Pawley’s Island and Litchfield areas of the corridor and has been effective there.”

The study also recommends building “reduced conflict intersections” where drivers on side streets cannot make left turns or go straight ahead. Instead, they would have to turn right and continue in that direction until it’s safe to turn around, the study said.

“A RCI provides for a two-phase signal operation as opposed to the traditional eight-phase intersection,” the study said. “This improved signal coordination combined with access management should reduce the frequency of starting and stopping, equating to fewer crashes.”

Among the funding options mentioned in the study is a 1 percent sales tax in Georgetown County. The county had a similar tax between 2014 and 2019.

“The tax raised $41 million and was for a variety of projects including road paving,” the study said. “If this one percent sales tax could be restored, it could potentially be a major contributor to aid with the transportation infrastructure needs for the county.”

“The sales tax does have some potential,” Newquist said. “We’ve seen great benefit in Horry County from the RIDE program.”

Money for that program came from a one-cent capital projects sales tax on all retail sales, accommodations, and prepared food and beverages. Approved by voters in 2016, the tax will raise $592 million over eight years to fund 20 different road projects, according to the county’s website.

The Highway 17 study also raised the possibility of impact fees and using tax increment financing and municipal improvement districts at the local level, to go along with state and federal grants. The study also floated the idea of a temporary toll road, though Newquist said it would be “very, very unlikely for this type of corridor” because they are normally roads that are built to interstate standards.  

“Public Private partnerships are increasing in popularity around the country and basically involve a private entity building a road or making improvements to a corridor in exchange for the rights to collect tolls on that corridor for a specified period of time,” the study said. “While a public private partnership for a project on the US 17 Corridor may be a stretch, there’s tremendous innovation taking place across the country and smaller projects are now being funded with public private partnerships.”

The study prioritized a dozen intermediate-term projects costing about $25.1 million and three” long-term” projects costing about $25.7 million. Following is a list of the top 10 projects in the recommended order of priority.

  1. US 17 at Burgess Road Quadrant Intersection (Intermediate, $4.2M)
  2. US 17 Smalls Loop Road to Island Shops Access Management (Intermediate, $4.6M)
  3. US 17 at Litchfield Drive and Country Club Drive Safety Improvements (Intermediate, $2.4M)
  4. US 17 Willbrook Boulevard / Retreat Beach Cir Reduced Conflict Intersection (Intermediate, $1.8M)
  5. US 17 between Pendergrass Avenue to Wachesaw Road RCI (Intermediate, $2.7M)
  6. US 17 widening to six lanes from Bellamy Avenue to Burgess Road (Long-term, $12.5M)
  7. Kings River Road at Waverly Road single lane roundabout (Intermediate, $2.0M)
  8. US 17 between Sandy Island Road and Wesley Road S. RCI (Intermediate, $1.4M)
  9. US 17 between of Prince George Road and The Colony U-turn lanes (Intermediate, $800K)
  10. US 17 at Kings River Road signalization and U-turn Lane (Intermediate, $730K)

“I would like to encourage folks to continue to visit our website and take a look at the study,” Newquist said. “We look forward to having the in-person public meeting on the 14th to help answer any questions.”

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