HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Design plans to widen more sections of Highway 501 to three lanes are scheduled to begin in 2016. It could be 2018 before funding is in place and road construction for the project gets going.
Expanding part of Highway 501 northbound from two to three lanes was a major undertaking that took eight months to complete. Now the focus is on the beach-bound side of the highway from 31 to Gardner Lacy. Many feel that's where a widening project is needed most and are surprised the construction won't start for another four years.
"I think that's crazy," says Louise Childs, who works at Sam Snead's Oak Grill and Tavern off Highway 501. "I think they need to get it done now. With the traffic, I think with the way it is, it's going to get busier in another four years. And if they don't have it done now, what are they going to do then? You know, it's really going to be tied up."
Business owners along the heavily traveled highway agree the expansion is necessary.
"In the mornings it is a log jam trying to get in to Myrtle Beach," says David Carpenter, owner of Fat Cat Café along 501. "And there's a lot of people who go that way. So definitely, that needs to be upgraded to a faster track. Especially with a main artery like that."
SCDOT says that after a few adjustments the reviews of the widening on the northbound side have all been positive. However, business owners on both sides of the highway have concerns. If the traffic flows so fast and easy, it could deter drivers from stopping at their businesses. On the other hand, without the project, drivers could avoid Highway 501 altogether, due to bottlenecking and standstill traffic.
"What I was initially worried about when they were doing construction was that they were going to do an overpass and people were going to drive right on by," said Carpenter. "Which obviously that didn't occur. But if I had a business that was sitting next to a place where they just circumvented the whole zone, well that's pretty much going to put me out of business."
SCDOT says this phase of the project in the southbound lanes is much more difficult, thanks to all the utilities that have to be moved for the widening. And there are no plans right now to create an overpass. SCDOT says there is also a local long-range goal to have 501 northbound expanded to three lanes all the way to 544, but they do not have funding yet for this project.