Was the Aynor Overpass worth the money?

AYNOR, SC (WMBF) - It's beautifully constructed and well maintained, but for who? In just one hour, we counted only 14 people using the Aynor Overpass to avoid busy Highway 501.

Just like the way Highway 501 splits Aynor in two, the overpass has divided the opinions on whether this so called "shortcut" was worth $19 million.

"I don't think so. I use it some, but very, very rarely," says Ashley Rabon.

David Rabon, who's not related to Ashley disagrees, "I use this everyday to come get my son."

"I'm glad that it came professionally. Personally I think there were other ways around it," says tobacco farmer, Martin Johnson.

In 2006, 60 percent of Horry County voters approved using money from the "Riding on a Penny" sales tax to fund 15 county road projects.

A tax that tourists and locals pay for eating out, buying groceries, retail purchases and hotels.

Horry County Councilman Al Allen explains, "We could have never afforded this on our own without going through this sales tax program."

The only thing voters didn't decide was where to build it. Eight proposed locations were narrowed down to two: on the north end at Highway 319 and St. John Road and where it currently sits on the southern outskirts of town.

To put it into perspective, SCDOT clocked 19,000 people using this portion of Highway 501 in just one day, and this is the off season. So the question becomes why a project that could have eased the flow of traffic along Highway 501, wasn't designed to do so at all.

Aynor Mayor Keb Johnson agrees, the overpass isn't living up to its potential.

"There's a lot of people still not using it. I catch myself sometimes leaving my house and going to the red light, and whenever I get to there I think for a minute and think I could have caught the overpass," says Keb.

In the end, the location on the south end won out, but the most crucial selling point was the fact that everyone, regardless of where they lived, had access to evacuation shelters.

During a hurricane, a lane reversal turns normal flow of traffic on Highway 501 into four lanes evacuating the coast. This causes a dangerous problem because half the town, and a majority of its residents are cut off from the hurricane shelters. In the history of Horry County and the entire state, it's only happened once during Hurricane Charley in 2004.

Keb goes on, "We haven't had to use the overpass for that yet, thank goodness, but sooner or later we will."

In the mean time, the overpass benefits the few.

"It probably saves me about an extra five to 10 minutes at least," says Aynor resident David Rabon.

Martin Johnson tells us, "We use it sometimes daily, sometimes weekly moving farm equipment, it's very advantageous not to cross Highway 501 with the red lights that last 10 to 15 minutes to cross in high volume of traffic. It's just a liability for us."

Horry County Councilman Al Allen is convinced that growth for the small town of 600 plus will come with time.

"A majority of our workforce will be on the Conway side of Aynor where the current Aynor overpass is that is where we expect growth to occur in the future first instead of on the north side of Aynor. Simply because people want to be close to where they work."

While the location may not make sense now, the vision is for a more developed Aynor years down the road.

"We need to have a strong vision for the future as to what the needs are 20 to 30 years out not just our current needs, wants and desires right now," says Allen.

"Without projects like this going on where not able to grow our industry, whether it's agriculture industry or whether its the new gun businesses that are coming.

Unless we get funding to do projects like this, we are always going to be rural Horry County," exclaims Martin Johnson.

Mayor Keb Johnson says the empty lot next to Aynor Family Medicine on Elm Street will be the new location of the IGA in town.

You can bet that's going to boost the traffic on the Aynor Overpass which is literally right across the street. This is going to help out folks not only in their day to day trips to the grocery store but also in the case of severe weather when supplies are needed, and they can't cross Highway 501 due to lane reversals.

Horry County is projected to raise more than $425 million in taxes over the seven-year life of the penny sales tax, which expires on May 1, 2014.

The Aynor Overpass was the only major project that's been completed under the Riding on a Penny program so far, but work is underway on the Backgate, Hwy 707- International Drive and Glenns Bay Road.

For a full list of the projects, check out this link: http://www.ridingonapenny.com/index.asp

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