Big crowds at public hearing on Hwy 31 and 707 projects

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The SC Department of Transportation hosted a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the latest plans for the now combined Highway 31 extension and Highway 707 widening project.

SCDOT officials, the Federal Highway Administration, and Horry County officials hosted the event to discuss the road project with residents.

The turnout was high, officials guessed around 200 people showed up to the meeting.

An Environmental Assessment for the combined Carolina Bays Parkway Extension and SC 707 Widening Improvements has been completed and approved by the SCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

Diagrams were displayed showing several angles, and how the road projects will affect drivers and homeowners. The first hour of the meeting was informal, and allowed people to voice their questions to officials on an individual basis.

The second hour was formal and the SCDOT gave a short presentation. Only two people chose to voice a public comment: Surfside Beach Mayor Doug Samples and Coastal Conservation League Spokesperson Nancy Cave. Mayor Samples voiced his support for the projects.

Cave said the CCL doesn't necessarily oppose the projects, but it has several concerns that it does not think have been adequately addressed in the Environmental Assessment.

"Terminating Hwy 31 at an interchange with 707 will foster unplanned growth in the area, doubling traffic on Holmestown Road and putting further pressure on Hwy 17. 707 access needs to be controlled," Cave said.

Norman Houck, 75, and his wife have lived on SC 707 for several years. Houck built his home on the current two lane road and plans to live at the home for the rest of his life. He said had he known about the project, he would have never chosen to build at that location. A tearful Houck explained to WMBF News that he had recently spread his brother's ashes on the front yard, and now officials want to put a sidewalk in that spot.

"They're moving the roadway back across my property where my brother's…I scattered his ashes… and they're gonna put a sidewalk right over top of him," Houck said.

Houck said he hopes SCDOT officials will hear his plea and build the sidewalk a few yards out from the current plan.

Joseph Garcia, who also lives along SC 707 said he came to the public hearing to see how the projects were coming along. Garcia said he looks forward to the completion of the projects.

It's been three years since there's been a public hearing on the issue, and prior to the meeting, drivers said they've been waiting to hear more about what's been promised to them for some time.

"Yes I'm anxious about the meeting," said Doug Irons, who drives on Highway 707. "To see what or how long it's going to take after the meeting."

There will be a presentation on the need for the road improvements, and the updated plans to make it happen. After this presentation, those in attendance will have the chance to voice their opinions.

Drivers say they're glad to finally get information from SCDOT officials, but they'd rather the talking was followed by some action.

"It's the same old story," said Jerry Lucido, who lives off of Highway 707. "You know, 'We're working on it, we're working on it.' So I'm very interested to see what their reason is this time. I think really it's a shame we had to wait this long."

The public hearing lasted two hours, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Socastee High School. All of the materials from the meeting are available on the SC Dept. of Transportation's website.

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