Carolina Bays extension construction underway

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A major concern along the Grand Strand is traffic. Highway 31 was built to help relieve some of that congestion, but we've been waiting a long time to see the project wrap up. The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) released a timeline for the extension project at a press briefing Thursday.

Highway 31, or the Carolina Bays Parkway, runs from Highway 9 in Little River to Highway 544 in Socastee. Plans for the road are to have it extend an extra 3.8 miles out to Highway 707 in Murrells Inlet. This will be completed in three segments and will start where we left off at Highway 544.

The first phase will include a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, which SCDOT says will be the most notable of the seven bridges in the project. This bridge is expected to be complete in February 2017 and will look similar to the Fantasy Harbour Bridge.

According to SCDOT, the clearing on both sides of the Intracoastal will be the first thing you're going to notice.

Another stand out spot will be the construction of a new bridge on Enterprise Road in June. You can expect partial road closures beginning in August that run through May 2015, but at no time will homes or businesses be completely closed off. SCDOT expects this to be one of the top tie-up spots for drivers because you will not be able to cross the Carolina Bays construction on Enterprise Road; only local traffic will be allowed on each side.

SCDOT says the road will be closed just north of Butler Road. Detour routes will be set up on Bay Road and Highway 707.

"I think Enterprise Road and 544 are where folks are going to see the majority of the conflicts, says Mike Barbee with SDCOT. "I think some of our activities on 544 will be an effect, less so on 707 because we have the widening going on there"

He says to anticipate a construction zone on SC-544 similar to what you see on Highway 707 with increased law enforcement and enforced speed limits. DOT says it will do its best to make sure any lane closures elsewhere are put in place during overnight hours.

Once people get used to the road there will be like 20,000 to 30,000 cars on Carolina Bays each day, says Barbee. This will relieve the backups we see on major roads like Highway 17 and connect Highway 31 to the South Strand.

Right now, the Carolina Bays Parkway is expected to open in January 2017. But in order for the Highway 31 extension to open, the Highway 707 widening project has to be completed.

"We're able to get them both constructed in a relatively short wind but the delicate situation could be to coordinate the two so that they are opening within a reasonable time frame of one another," says Barbee.

Part of the timing of the Highway 31 extension project has to do with funding, which is why it took so long to get off the ground. According to Horry County, the total project is estimated to cost $225 to $237 million and is funded by the State Infrastructure Bank ($225M), American Recovery and Investment Act Funds ($10M) and earmark funds ($2.0M).

While this is expected to be a three year process, it could end up taking even longer. The construction timeline may change based off of weather conditions.

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